PROJECT GEN-X – AN INTERVIEW WITH REBECCA ROWLAND

PROJECT GEN-X – AN INTERVIEW WITH REBECCA ROWLAND

By Renata Pavrey

In a unique anthology of monster, folk, paranormal, and psychological horror as glimpsed through the lens of the latchkey generation, twenty-two voices shine a strobe light on the cultural demons that lurked in the background while they came of age in the heyday of Satanic panic and slasher flicks, milk carton missing and music television, video rentals and riot grrrls. 

These Gen-X storytellers once stayed out unsupervised until the streetlights came on, and what they brought home with them will terrify you. 

Featuring brand new fiction from Kevin David Anderson, Glynn Owen Barrass, Matthew Barron, C.D. Brown, Matthew Chabin, L.E. Daniels, C.O. Davidson, Douglas Ford, Phil Ford, Holly Rae Garcia, Dale W. Glaser, Tim Jeffreys, Derek Austin Johnson, Eldon Litchfield, Adrian Ludens, Elaine Pascale, Erica Ruppert, Kristi Petersen Schoonover, Rob Smales, Mark Towse, Thomas Vaughn, and Thomas K.S. Wake.

As a follow-up to my wonderful reading experience of the book, I interviewed editor Rebecca Rowland, for an insight into how Generation X-ed was conceived, created, and curated.

Hi Rebecca, Congratulations on the release of your latest book. How would you describe the experience of working on a project with other writers, versus individually writing a book?

It’s a completely different animal. In the first anthology I edited for Dark Ink Books, I included one of my own stories; I haven’t done that since. It’s too difficult wearing both hats: as an editor, you have to see the work through the eyes of the reader while simultaneously having the backs of the authors who have contributed to the project. With my own stuff, I just write what I like and rarely consider how readers might respond: I trust in the editor and the press owner to assess and dress it properly for public view. It’s much more exhausting to be an editor, unfortunately, but it’s even more rewarding on some levels as long as I know I’ve done right by those who’ve contributed their work.

Generation X-ed is a niche genre: horror stories set in the eighties and early nineties. How did the idea for the anthology come about?

A few years ago, I made a conscious effort to read and review more independent dark fiction. I also tried to break out of my (painfully awkward, typical writer-introvert-) shell and get to know some fellow independent horror writers. What I found was that more than three-quarters of those horror authors were my age: we shared the same formative experiences in media, music and culture. I was born smack in the middle of Generation X, a group I didn’t really understand the significance of until I was well into my thirties and forties. Now, I look at my generation and I realize, there are touchstones we share that helped shape us into the people we are as adults: the satanic panic, the latchkey phenomenon, the Challenger explosion (witnessed live in our classrooms), the emergence and disappearance of Mtv, and so forth. I happen to think our formative experiences are the most nefarious, which might explain the wealth of horror fiction that has sprung from Gen Xers!

The stories cover a range of horror sub-genres from psychological and paranormal, to comedy and sci-fi. Was this intentional, to feature stories across the horror spectrum?

The Renaissance of the slasher film occurred during Generation X’s childhood/early teens, and the birth of cable television and VCRs (coupled with looser supervision by our parents), made access to hardcore horror relatively easy. When I first conceived the collection, I did imagine it would be focused on the splatter and gore of that subgenre: the X lends itself so well to that, visually and thematically. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that our influences weren’t limited to slashers. Each of the authors chose an individual (real or fictional) who had an impact on him/her as a horror writer. The range makes me realize I did the right thing broadening the parameters of the fiction I wanted to include.

All the writers belong to the latchkey generation and have explored their personal experiences with movies, books, music, political and historical events from the era. How did you gather stories and authors for this project?

I wrote up the call for stories, letting writers know the word count range and that we were really only requiring two things: that the writer be a member of Generation X and that the horror story include something (subtly or otherwise) specific to the generation. As the submissions came in, I was pleasantly surprised: the caliber of writing and the uniqueness in story arcs made whittling the final count down to twenty-two very difficult. There were definitely some stories that it pained me to turn away, but the ones I selected all had one thing in common: they were exceptionally well-written, and they stayed in my head hours or even days after I first read them. I wish I could give a more objective analysis of why these twenty-two ended up together, but my best explanation would be it’s part luck that these gifted authors chose to trust me with their creations, and it’s part my own gut reaction. 

While readers born and growing up in the 70s and 80s would find resonance in the references, the stories are so well written and compiled to be enjoyable for everyone. Did you have a reader audience in mind while conceiving this anthology? As an editor, how challenging is it to cater to different reader tastes when curating a collection?

So far, I’ve been fortunate enough to curate collections where the focus has been something to which I am already drawn, and I know readers are going to choose a book based on whether its nucleus is something that already jives with their preferences. I know putting out a collection that appears age-specific is risky; however, one of the nicest feedbacks I’ve received from reviewers is my commitment to diversity in style and approach, and therefore, I’ve always kept that in mind when I am cutting down the “likely yes” pile to the final lineup. 

I am drawn to read anthologies myself because of the variety: I don’t expect to love every entry, and I don’t expect readers of the anthologies I curate to love every story. However, I never want a reader to find s/he doesn’t respond to multiple stories in a row. Even if the stories have a common thread, I take care to either follow one story with another from a completely different subgenre, or, if the subgenres are the same, make certain back-to-back tales utilize different points-of-view, or possess similar narrators who make very different choices. That way, there really is something for everyone. There are sly winks in Generation X-ed that will resonate specifically with those who are a part of the generation, but the heart of the collection, the things that creep and unnerve and scare the bejesus out of us no matter when we grew up, is what gives it life, so I hope everyone who enjoys good storytelling will take a look. 

Generation X-ed releases on January 26, 2022. 

Links to purchase:

https://rowlandbooks.com/generation-xed#f5bed466-d8ae-4abf-a6cb-8b7d887bb01c

 

Book Review: The Forest by Michaelbrent Collings

First, the forest took their friend, then it took their son. Now it might take them too.

Tricia and Alex return to their hometown years after their son’s disappearance to finally confront their fears and get closure. But when they are sucked back into the place that took everything from them, they discover that there is far more at play than any natural phenomenon could explain.

The Forest is a full-length horror novel by Michaelbrent Collings. It contains implied incest and depictions of domestic abuse.

Collings keeps the plot tight, leaving the reader with barely any room to breathe. It’s fast-paced and action-packed, with twisty turns lurking behind every corner.

The novel takes place both in the past and the present, depicting Tricia and Alex as teenagers and as adults. Tricia and Alex are more likable as adults than they are as teens. The flashbacks were difficult to read because the characters were insufferable know-it-alls as teenagers. Collings made them into super-geniuses with superiority complexes. However, the descriptions of their teenage awkwardness surrounding love were spot on. As adults worn down by multiple tragedies, they are humbler and more relatable.

The forest is a character all its own. Collings does an incredible job of creating atmosphere through his writing. You feel as if the trees have a personality and purpose, probably a nefarious one. Though the forest is an endless maze, it still has its waypoints and Collings keeps each scene distinct while also blurring the scenery so even the reader feels lost in the forest.

Collings’ writing is distinctively crisp and quick. He doesn’t waste time with unnecessary descriptions. The writing gets out of the way and lets the story take the focus. And what a story. Twisty from start to finish, it grips tight and won’t let go. You canNOT guess what’s coming next. I absolutely guarantee it.

If you like psychological horror, malevolent forces beyond our understanding and crazy reveals that you’ll never see coming, you’ll like The Forest by Michaelbrent Collings.

Free Fiction: The Bunny Man by BrandonTanczak

The bunny man in the ice cream truck gives girls & boys a cool treat.

But one wrong quip and the bunny man

will take you off your feet! Stowed in the cold turning to ice 

A small debt to pay for not being so nice 

The children dream of aiding the bunny man 

Scooping ice cream according to plan 

No at all being the wiser 

Of the fudge dipped Billy Kaiser. 

The bunny man is not mean or scary 

Just don’t bring up what he did to Terry. 

With his big eyes and long ears floppy 

Crooked bucktooth smile, a hare a tad bit choppy 

The music chimes and the children run 

The bunny man says ‘here comes another, oh what fun’ They rush with glee into the summer heat 

For their frozen mystery treat. 

Billy, Tommy, Ryan, and Jill 

Line up to get their fill 

Vanilla swirl, chocolate sprinkle, and mint chocolate Chip With joy coming from the bunny man’s furry grip 

Poor little Tommy is ready to cry 

He wanted a cone but was short a dime. 

‘How badly do you want it?’ The bunny man replied. Tommy pouts ‘so badly that I could just DIE’ 

The bunny man smirks with a devilish grin 

‘Well, you’re in luck, my friend. Go around back and hop on in’ Tommy runs to back, his eyes wide with wonder 

Not fully understanding of the spell he was under 

The doors kick open and the dry ice mists 

The bunny man’s smile suddenly twists 

Snatching Tommy up rather quick 

The truck speeds off, disappearing like a magic trick 

The next day the bunny man comes back 

Showing the kids his brand new snack 

The children ranted and raved over the new flavor 

Double scoops of Tutti Tommy Craver.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Brandon Tanczak is a filmmaker and writer from Philadelphia PA.

He and his wife Jill run Jerks Productions, an art collective, and horror film production

team. Jerks specialize in an art-house style of horror focusing more on psychological

and emotionally driven characters and situations rather than blood and gore.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Us

Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave) and Winston Duke (Black Panther) star in Jordan Peele’s (Get Out) 2019 doppelganger chiller Us. Warnings of underground unknowns, VHS, retro boob tubes, and ye olde 1986 commercials for Hands Across America set the scene before Santa Cruz carnivals, Thriller t-shirts, dark beaches, thunderstorms, and funhouse horrors. Her parents’ banter was already strained before the trauma, and the now-adult Addy hasn’t told her husband of the experience, either. They return to her family home, but their daughter’s too busy with her phone, the son’s really too old to be playing with toys, and her oblivious to her discomfort husband wants to keep up with the Joneses with a cool boat. The spooky basement, cabinets big enough to hide in, and mirrors with reflections that seem to look back at you lead to the same eerie funhouse, crazy beach folk, repeated twin moments, elevens, jinx, and double jinx. Peering through dark windows and talking with your back to a person layer visuals and dual suggestions while our husband jokes about what was in the hall of mirrors coming to get Addy and their rich white friends remain out of touch snobs more interested in alcohol and plastic surgery. Our Mr. thinks he can handle trespassers with threats and a baseball bat, but power outages and unresponsive lookalikes banging at the door make for a fearful home invasion. This unarmed, mid-century beach house and its many windows aren’t exactly secure, and the entire break-in happens in real-time without frenetic cameras and zorp boom music. Croaking, unaccustomed to speaking accounts tell tales of the tethered and shadowed receiving pain below while we have light and warmth above, and each of the underground confronts their compatriots with disturbing torments, freaky pursuits, and mimicking pantomime. Ironic Beach Boys cues and sardonic smart home devices are no help at all! Addy starts timid, but this threatened mother turns badass, angry, and desperate to save her son as the bizarre deaths and replacement reveal escalate with distorted reversals, fractured experiences, and not quite right through the looking glass. The timely titular we and the American initialization mirror the united privileged for some but underbelly torment for many. We kind of know what’s going in here and the wither to and why fros aren’t as important as the underlying social statements. However, drawn-out, unnecessary moments, and repeated, uneven showdowns make this a little long. Chases, defeats, and hard violence are easy or contrived depending on if the tethered is conveniently primitive and animalistic or agile and adapt as needed. Elaborate underground talk and random fights don’t explain how big this takeover is. Police are called but never arrive, both a horror trope as well as a commentary on the system, but the supposedly self-aware genre send-ups make characters stupid or erroneously humorous. Homages don’t upend but play into the horror cliches as car keys are forgotten, no one worries about food or weapons bigger than a fireplace poker, and they get out of the car in the middle of the woods. And how did they get so many pristine, matching underground supplies? The final act explanations and intercut dance parallels descend into stereotypical horror with quick editing and that obnoxious Zorp boom music, but with so many great things here, there’s no need for generic horror designs. There are flaws, the audience must take a lot of leaps, and final twists should have been told in the big reveal rather than montaged at the end. Our writer/director/producer needed a tighter edit in the last act, but the excellent foreshadowing, dual visuals, and social commentary make for repeat viewings and scary entertainment.

Book Review: GENERATION X-ED edited by Rebecca Rowland

GENERATION X-ED,  An anthology of horror from the latchkey generation

Book review by Renata Pavrey

A unique collection of horror stories that pay tribute to the seventies and eighties. Generation X-ed turns back time with twenty-two writers who offer a glimpse into the horrors of the past. Videocassette players, slasher flicks, satanic cults, paper maps, cable repairs, alien invasions, summer vacations, creature features, rock and grunge music – the reader is transported into an era filled with cultural references that range from books to movies and music.

A challenge for the editor in not only collecting well-written horror stories adhering to the theme but also finding writers from generation X, who have mined their memories for an eerie array of tales for the reader. From VHS tapes to MTV, hairstyles and clothes, movie theatres and film stars, political events, and manmade disasters, the writers take us through time and place with very different stories, but all bound by their connection to the 70s and 80s.

My most favorite story was How I Met Kurt Russell by Rob Smales, which takes us through the movies and characters played by Kurt Russell. In a narrative hilarious and unnerving in equal parts, Smales addresses the horrors of identity, fandom, and superstardom. I just loved his horror-comedy, the subject of his story, and the route of exploring serious themes through humor. Some of my other favorites were In From The Cold by Adrian Wayne Ludens (the nostalgia of old photographs), A Genealogy of Hunger by Thomas Vaughn (a stellar piece of speculative fiction), Pay Heed to the Preacher Man by Eldon Litchfield (about small towns and creepy residents), Naming The Band by Elaine Pascale (hierarchies and dynamics between band members), Birnam Hall by L. E. Daniels (sheer brilliance in writing about sexual assault without actually writing about it, as a mirror to unreported cases), Stand Beside Me Now by Tim Jeffreys (for his take on haunted houses), Parker Third West by Dale W. Glaser (for his deep dive into dorm life), The Shade by C.O. Davidson (dealing with death and grief).

The stories are a mixed bunch, but they’re all entertaining in the way each of us interprets horror – as children, teenagers, and adults. Although the cover depicts a slasher anthology, the collection covers sub-genres of horror from cosmic to sci-fi, psychological and paranormal, folk horror, and horror-comedy. Highly recommended for readers from the latchkey generation, who have lived through the era and will identify with the references. But it’s really just for everyone, to enjoy the coming-together of an exceptional bunch of writers. Kudos to editor Rebecca Rowland for accomplishing this task.

My rating – 5/5

Book Review: Tortured Willows by Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, Geneve Flynn and Christina Sng

Review by Daphne Strasert

5 stars

Tortured Willows bleeds, sobs, and howls with rage. The poems stab at the monsters who desecrate, they release spirits to deliver revenge and honour the memories of mothers and grandmothers. The words of these four poets – Lee Murray, Angela Yuriko Smith, Geneve Flynn, and Christina Sng – cannot be ignored. By sharing often intensely personal experiences of otherness, of suffering and prejudice, they reach into your heart and demand you listen.

The driving force behind these verses is the combination of cultural heritage, the definition of woman and the modern-day perception of the poets as ‘other’. Employing a variety of forms, – from sonnet to black-out to blank verse – the poems educate those of us who have been unaware as to the level of suffering of our sisters on the other side of the world. The notes provide further information, book, newspaper, document references to their histories and their realities.

Every poem deserves its place. Lee Murray delivers tragedy in Fox Girl and Exquisite and poignancy in The Girl with the Bellows. Geneve Flynn serves up anger in ‘Abridge’, the cultural practice of ghost brides in ‘Bride Price’, the fears of a mother for her son in ‘Unpicked Stitching.
Christina Sng brings up supernatural revenge in Flat, The Visit and The Last Bus, respect for ancestors in The Offering and the place their ghosts still have in our lives.
Angela Yuriko Smith develops the strength of women in Four Willows Bound, the traditions of the Ryukyuan in Onarigami and Her Hajichi, her sense of difference in The Nukekubi.

In theory, I would list every poem – they all have something to say. In lieu of such a list, all I can say is buy – or borrow – but do read – this extraordinary and eye-opening collection

In the words of Angela Yuriko Smith in her poem, Four Willows Bound:

Four willows stood bound
in their sisterhood, in strength —
unquiet, waiting

They are waiting for you.

Historian of Horror: Third Time is Definitely NOT the Charm

Third Time is Definitely NOT the Charm

I suspect we’re all at least somewhat familiar with the Universal monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s. The Frankenstein monster, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, these are all iconic figures in the history of our favorite genre. In two separate cycles, from 1931 to 1936, and then from 1939 to 1948, the Universal gang were the first more or less unified cinematic universe, fighting each other as well as villagers carrying torches and pitchforks, monster hunters with stakes and silver bullets and tana leaves, and the occasional sane scientist going up against the mad ones.

Universal also produced a few lesser series, unconnected to the primary bunch of horror films, including the Creeper films of Rondo Hatton, the Captive Wild Woman trilogy, and the six little pictures that are the focus of our attention today. One of them, anyhow.

Since all popular culture in America is in one way or another connected, we have to go back, back, back into the dark and abyss of time that was 1930. Major publishing house Simon & Schuster began issuing mystery novels in that year under the imprint of Inner Sanctum Mysteries. Eleven years later, radio impresario Himan Brown initiated a program under that title that began on January 7, 1941, complete with a creaking door and a sardonic host, the first of his kind, named Raymond Edward Johnson. 

In 1944, Universal decided to get in on the fun by casting their new big horror star, Lon Chaney, Jr., in a series of low-budget films under the Inner Sanctum banner. These were distinct tales with no connection to each other, nor to the larger continuity of the Universal Cinematic Universe. The second film, Weird Woman, was the only one with a truly supernatural theme, and the first film adaptation of Fritz Leiber, Jr.’s 1943 novel, Conjure Wife.

Conjure Wife first appeared in the pulp magazine, Unknown Worlds, in the April 1943 issue, and in expanded form has been reprinted many times by numerous publishers. It’s the tale of Norman Saylor, a sociology professor at a small American university. Being a rational man, he objects when he discovers that his wife, Tansy, has been helping his career by the ritual application of magical spells and talismans. He forces her to dispense with all her occult gear and practices, not realizing that the wives of the other faculty members are performing the same services on behalf of their own spouses. Things start to go terribly wrong for Norman’s career until he is forced to admit  

Weird Woman downplays some of the supernatural elements in the story but is still quite outré. Frequent Chaney co-star Evelyn Ankers (The Wolf Man, The Ghost of Frankenstein, Son of Dracula) appears as one of those arrayed against our hero in a rare villainous performance. Anne Gwynn, who a year later would appear with Chaney in House of Frankenstein, played Norman’s wife, renamed Paula. 

The film moves along pretty briskly for its sixty-three-minute length, although like all the Inner Sanctum pictures it slows a bit whenever Chaney indulges in the whispered internal monologue voiceovers that were a feature of the radio program. Those were effective and useful in a purely auditory medium but unnecessary on film. Alas, Chaney insisted on them, and being the BMOL (Big Man on Lot), he got his way. 

I’ve not been able to track down the first television adaptation of the novel, a thirty-minute version for the second episode of a minor series called Moment of Fear (aired July 8, 1960). The best adaptation is by far the 1962 British film, Night of the Eagle. Also known as Burn, Witch, Burn, it stars Peter Wyngarde, who initially passed on the role but spotted a flash car he fancied. He reconsidered, asking the exact cost of the vehicle as his fee.

The film itself is quite beautifully mounted, and the script by Twilight Zone collaborator Charles Beaumont doesn’t shy away from the supernatural elements inherent in the story. Night of the Eagle is one of the best English horror movies of the early 1960s.

Alas, nothing as complimentary can be said of the most recent version, a made-for-TV movie from 1980 called Witches’ Brew. Frankly, its cheese factor tends towards the Limburger end of the stinky scale. I recommend sticking with the book itself, and the first two extant adaptations, because the third is not, as the title of this essay indicates, very good.

Oh well. Until next time, then…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Guest Blog: “The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows”

“The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows

Featured Author: Geneve Flynn

Southeast Asian mythology is much less familiar territory for many horror fans. While vampires, werewolves, and zombies are well-known, creatures such as the tiyanak, the penanggalan, the pontianak, and the nukekubi are less so. Does that make them scarier? Let’s dive in and see. 

  Tortured Willows is a newly released collaborative collection of sixty horror poems by four of the authors from the Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, Christina Sng, and Geneve Flynn showcase some of these creepy critters in their poetry. In this blog series, we chat to each of the contributors about their monsters.

Please say hello to Geneve Flynn.

LM: Please tell us a little more about the themes you explore in this collection.

GF: There were a few things happening in the cultural and political spaces in Australia when I was writing my poems. There had been allegations of rife sexism, sexual misconduct, and assault within our parliament, and there has been growing fury at how gendered violence has been handled by the press, the justice system, and the government. Tortured Willows offered a place for me to express some of my own anger and frustration at our very “blokey” culture. I also wrote about my experience of racism as part of the Chinese-Malaysian diaspora. They were the some of the same themes I touched on in my stories in Black Cranes; but, in Tortured Willows, using poetry, I was able to explore these themes from different angles and in a more targeted way. 

LM: Your poem “Penanggalan’s Lament”, a favourite of mine, features one of the most gruesome creatures from Southeast Asian mythology. Please tell us more about her and what she symbolises in your work. 

“penanggalanfullj.jpg” by Kurt Komoda is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

GF: The penanggalan is a Malay vampiric creature that is thought to be a woman who accidentally curses herself with black magic in the pursuit of beauty. She is supposed to soak in a vat of vinegar and eat no meat for forty days. However, she breaks her fast early and becomes monstrous. At night, she detaches her head from her body, trailing organs as she seeks out newborns and pregnant women to feed on. 

I immigrated to Australia only a decade or so after the White Australia Policy was abolished. I was often one of the only Asian kids in school, so I faced racism and abuse. I spent a lot of my childhood and teen years wishing I had blue eyes and blond hair. The idea that you could damn yourself in order to look a certain way resonated with me. Here is an excerpt from my poem:

“All you have to do: soak in vinegar,

hide in a vat; no meat for forty days.

You’ll be blue-eyed, fair, perfect, regular.”

The girl agrees, wakes up, still in a haze.

She’s one of them, not chink: so white, all ways.

Goodbye past, so long; she’s full ABC.

But she forgets: each deal you buy, you pay

your life, if you want to have that body. 

 

LM: Hungry ghosts feature in your poem “Inheritance”, a text which I found both evocative and insightful. What are hungry ghosts, and how did you showcase them in your work? 

“The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Photo 6” by feministjulie is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

GF: Hungry ghosts are said to arise when a person commits an evil deed or suffers a terrible death. When they die, they are tormented by insatiable desire for the one thing they sought most in life. The hungry ghost has a swollen belly and a tiny mouth, and can never be fulfilled. I wanted to write about the opportunities denied to Chinese girls and women, simply because they are often viewed as only fit for filial duty. What does it do to a person to be continually told, no matter your potential, you are only good for one thing? Would it turn you into a wraith, forever chasing validation? Here’s an excerpt from my poem:

Was that when you first

began to swell? Your stomach

bulging and burgeoning,

swallowing the bitter,

the burden, the second-hands,

the not-for-yous? 

Did your mouth begin to draw 

closed like a miserly purse

when you were left behind,

your splendid mind with  

only hunger and no choice

but to turn upon itself?

LM: Thanks so much for introducing us to some of the mythology that features in your poetry. If you’d like to read the poems mentioned in this blog series, Tortured Willows is available from Yuriko Publishing.

Praise for Tortured Willows:

“It’s clear Murray, Flynn, Sng, and Yuriko Smith are nowhere close to finished sharing all of the poems within them, but this is a fine rare gathering you’ll want to revisit time and

again.”—Bryan Thao Worra, former President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association

“Women live with spectres gifted to us by our experiences. Tortured Willows breathes life into these shadows, reminding us that what has shaped us has not broken us.”—Piper Mejia, author of The Better Sister & Other Stories

“A haunting, harrowing exploration of obligation, expectation, and sacrifice, poetry as unquiet fury and a lens on both past and present. Told in four unique voices yet speaking for countless silent generations of Asian women, Tortured Willows grips you by the throat and screams into the night, demanding to be heard.”—Dan Rabarts, award-winning author of the Children of Bane series

“This collection of poetry, without a doubt, will forever remain one of my all-time favorites. No matter how hard I pulled at the reins, I could not stop until every last poem was inside of me.” —Cindy O’Quinn, two-time Bram Stoker Award®-nominated author

Tortured Willows

Bent. Bowed. Unbroken

The willow is femininity, desire, death. Rebirth. With its ability to grow from a single broken branch, it is the living embodiment of immortality. It is the yin that wards off malevolent spirits. It is both revered and shunned.

In Tortured Willows, four Southeast Asian women writers of horror expand on the exploration of otherness begun with the Bram Stoker Award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women.

Like the willow, women have bent and bowed under the expectations and duty heaped upon them. Like the willow, they endure and refuse to break.

With exquisite poetry, Christina Sng, Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, and Geneve Flynn invite you to sit beneath the tortured willow’s gravid branches and listen to the uneasy shiver of its leaves.

LINK: https://www.amazon.com/Tortured-Willows-Bent-Bowed-Unbroken/dp/1737208334

Geneve Flynn is an award-winning speculative fiction editor and author. She has two psychology degrees and only uses them for nefarious purposes.

She co-edited Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women with celebrated New Zealand author and editor Lee Murray. The anthology won the 2020 Bram Stoker Award® and the 2020 Shirley Jackson Award for best anthology. It has also been shortlisted for the British Fantasy Award, Aurealis Award, and Australian Shadows Award. Black Cranes is listed on Tor Nightfire’s Works of Feminist Horror and Locus magazine’s 2020 Recommended Reading List

Geneve was assistant editor for Relics, Wrecks, and Ruins, a speculative fiction anthology which features authors such as Neil Gaiman, Ken Liu, Robert Silverberg, James (SA) Corey, Lee Murray, Mark Lawrence, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Angela Slatter. The anthology is the legacy of Australian fantasy author Aiki Flinthart, and is in support of the Flinthart Writing Residency with the Queensland Writers Centre

Geneve’s short stories have been published in various markets, including Flame Tree Publishing, Things in the Well, and PseudoPod. Her latest short story, “They Call Me Mother,” will appear in Classic Monsters Unleashed with some of the biggest names in horror, including Joe Lansdale, Jonathan Maberry, and Ramsey Campbell.

Geneve loves tales that unsettle, all things writerly, and B-grade action movies. If that sounds like you, check out her website at www.geneveflynn.com.au.

Free Fiction: Cherry Hill By CM Lucas

One last beam of sunlight peeks out from the horizon and reflects off the curves of a spotless Dodge Ram as it hurdles along a dusty service road.                                                                                        

“Where the hell is… Ah! There she is,” says the man as he scratches his salt & pepper beard and attempts to steer while adjusting the collar of his security uniform. His name is Clive Queenan, and he’s running a bit late. Hunching over the steering wheel while adjusting his legs, Clive squint’s as he reaches his destination atop Cherry Hill.

As Clive pulls into the parking lot, he exits his truck, stretches out, and glances at Cherry Hill Psychiatric Hospital. An imposing structure; its cracked bricks glow red in the setting sunlight; its glass-less windows creak while dangling shingles bob in the breeze. Long, slender branches from maple trees surround the building like elongated fingers.

“Christ, this place looks like it went to hell and back,” Clive says, glancing up as his hand rests atop his brow, blocking out the setting sun. 

Clive makes his way to the front door. Flaking paint floats to the ground as he grips the doorknob and enters the dilapidated building.

“Hello?” Clive says, pulling out his cell to check for any missed calls.

“Service sucks out here,” Clive says.

“Hm. Where is this dude?” Clive asks, looking about the foyer. The missing floor tiles and cobweb-draped ceiling are accompanied by an undisturbed layer of dust. 

This place is a tomb… A goddamn creepy tomb, Clive thinks, leaving a trail of footprints in the floor dust.

“Quite the shit pit, am I right?” the booming voice echoes through the foyer and bounces in Clive’s ears as he twists around and peers up at the man standing atop the staircase. The man smiles as he limps down the stairs. The smallest beam of light from the retreating sun peeks through the glass-less windows and reflects off the man’s hairless head. 

“Shit!” Clive says, clutching his chest.

“I scare ya there, buddy?” asks the man as he adjusts his glasses.

“I’m good. You must be, Darren. Sorry I’m late,” Clive says. The man reaches the foyer and hobbles over to Clive with a smirk on his crimson mustached face.

“What the hell’d you do to wind up watchin’ this toilet bowl?” asks the man as he peers up and extends his hand toward Clive for a handshake.

“I volunteered. Double time and a half to watch this place,” Clive says, glancing down, shaking the man’s hand vigorously.

“Skip. Everybody calls me Skip… no clue why, but It seems to suit me,” Skip says.

“Gotta love nicknames, huh? I’m Clive,” Clive says, looking about the area. Skip furrows his brow.

“Clive? You don’t run into too many Clives in Cherry Hill,” Skip says with a smirk on his face.

“No doubt. My mother’s from England. Every time I got my ass kicked in school because of my name, I always remembered to thank her,” Clive says, chuckling. Clive follows Skip as the duo walk through the foyer.

“So, what’d they tell ya about this place?” asks Skip, adjusting his glasses.

“Not much. Just that this place gets ransacked almost nightly,” Clive says, fiddling with his belt.  “Kids trying to hot wire the bulldozers and excavators. All that good stuff.” Clive continues, “not sure why they need two guards for this type of thing, but hey, double-time and a half, who cares,” Clive says as the duo enter a lengthy corridor. Clive glances at the hallway’s calcium and lime-covered concrete walls. The sun-bleached doors and glass-less windows seemingly stretch to infinity.

“When’s this place set to be torn down?” asks Clive as the pair head down the corridor. Skip snickers.

“What? What’s so funny?” asks Clive.

“They tell ya anything else?” asks Skip. Clive furrows his brow.

“No. Like what?” asks Clive.

“Place is supposed to be haunted,” Skip says. Clive stops. Skip twists around to face Clive.

“What do you mean? We’re talking little spooky friends, here?” Clive asks, flashing a smirk.

“Hey, that’s what they say,” Skip says, glancing up at Clive. Skip continues, “Look, I don’t believe in all that ghost tripe. I only believe what I see with these peepers of mine, ya know?” 

“I hear ya. I read about the shit that went on here before it closed down. Way scarier than poltergeists and all that, huh?” Clive says as the pair exit the corridor and enter the basement. Skip hits the light switch and the duo make their way down the creaking stairs.

“Alright, you’re down here. Other than those lil’ bastards tryin’ to take joyrides in the bulldozers, we also find these shits down here screwin’ and smokin’ up,” Skip says.

“I’m watching out for that? Sweet,” Clive says sarcastically.

“The perks, right?” Skip says. “I’ll be up on block A watchin’ paint crack. Have fun,” Skip says, heading upstairs.

“Hey, Skip! Around what time should I-” Clive is interrupted by the slamming of the basement door. 

“Alright, then,” Clive says, sitting down on a small stool. As Clive plays around with his cell, he hears a shuffling in the darkness. Peering up, Clive pays it no mind. The shuffling returns with increased volume. 

“What the hell is that?” Clive asks. Pointing his cell toward the darkness.

“Don’t be that guy, Queenan. Get your shit together,” Clive says. The shuffling, now sounding like erratic footsteps, draws closer. The sound of metal dragging along the ground now accompanying the shuffling.

“Skip?” Clive says softly. A loud crash brings Clive to his feet.

“You’re a funny lil’ bastard, Skippy,” Clive says. Venturing up the stairs, Clive attempts to open the door, only to find it locked. 

“Hey, Ha-ha! Joke’s over. Come on, open the-” the shuffling gets louder. Clive begins to pound on the door.

“Skip… Skip! Open the goddamn door!” Clive says as the noises get louder. 

“Skip!” Clive yells, pounding on the door. He begins to slam into the door as the noises get closer. Clive presses up against the door; he fumbles for his cell and points it down the staircase. The light from the cell illuminates a rat scurrying up the stairs grasping a soup can in its mouth.

“… Fuck me,” Clive says, chuckling. Clive wipes away perspiration from his brow and sinks to the top step as the door opens.

“Fucking hell, Skip. Sorry about that. Wait till I-” Clive stops as he peers up to face Skip.

“… Who are you?” asks Clive.

“I’m Darren. Sorry, I’m so late. I tried to call you, but the reception up here is the shits,” Darren continues, “are you alright? You sounded like you were freaking out down here. What happened?” asks Darren. Clive furrows his brow while staring at Darren.

“Darren? You’re Darren? … Where’s Skip? And why-” Clive asks before Darren interrupts.

“Skip? Who the hell’s Skip?” asks Darren.

“I…,” Clive pauses. 

“Look, man, I get it. No need to be embarrassed or whatever,  the place is fucking spooky. It’s supposedly haunted too,” Darren says,  “Oooo!… Sorry, man. I, uh, I’m not much of a believer in that silly shit, you know?” 

End.

Free Fiction: Itsy Bitsy by Brandon Tanczak

The itsy bitsy spider went down the water spout, which is my shower head. I was going through my normal shower ritual; use the toilet first then shave. I like to shave before I bathe myself to wash off any hairs that would stick. The water runs warming up, steam starts to rise. I grab my toothbrush and paste, I’m a multi-tasker. Before running the shower I went to adjust the shower head and there it was. 

The itsy bitsy spider was hanging out above the shower head basking in the steam, maybe this was part of its shower ritual? I jump and drop my toothbrush and paste it into the tub. I caught my breath, why was I scared? Sure, it has more legs than me and pointy teeth that may or may not contain a venom that will paralyze me giving it the opportune time to lay its eggs inside my eyes! 

But I am ten times larger and the bigger we are the harder we fall. I did the only thing I knew to do. I ran and grabbed a shoe! After wrapping a towel around myself, of course, I am not letting myself be THAT exposed. Having eggs laid in your eyes is bad enough but even worse while being naked. 

I grab both shoes, you know just to be safe. I make a loud CLAP, spider sandwich hold the mayo. The crushed corpse falls into the tub, no egg-laying today! I run the water to let the corpse wash down the drain and proceed to shower. I bathe just like you one body part at a time. I lather my hair with my two-in-one conditioner/shampoo, I am a multitasker remember? I let it sit while I wash the rest of my skeleton sack I call a body, then move on to my teeth. Brush, rise, spit. 

Now, the final task of rinsing the two in one out of my hair. I turn the heat down and let the water cool. GLUG GLUG comes from the drain, I pay it no mind. I close my eyes and dunk my head under the cold water. GLUG GLUG grows louder, faintly heard over the rushing water. I keep my eyes closed and bask in the water and let myself melt. 

POP! The drain opens up and a flood of water comes through rushing over my feet. My eyes open and I see the water, must just be building up because I’ve been in here for a while now. I turn the heat back up, turn away from the drain and close my eyes again. I let the steam rise again. GLUG GLUG! Two very large, long, hairy, brown appendages come up from the drain and fight their way out. They extend and something comes through the drain and rises in the steam behind me. 

All of a sudden the water has stopped hitting me. I open my eyes and the room has now gotten darker. I didn’t hear the light bulb blow out, weird. Confused, I turn around, and standing over me I see is a ginormous, brown, hairy, wet spider. The bitsy spider is no longer itsy and now I have a reason to be scared. Not only does it have more legs than me I am one hundred percent sure those pointy teeth are venomous and now it’s ten times larger than me. 

The last thing I remember is its large brown legs wrapping around me. I woke up on the bathroom floor, the shower water is still running and the room is filled with steam. I have this irritating throbbing pain in my left eye and everything is blurry. Must have landed on my face.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Brandon Tanczak is a filmmaker and writer from Philadelphia PA.

He and his wife Jill run Jerks Productions, an art collective, and horror film production

team. Jerks specialize in an art-house style of horror focusing more on psychological

and emotionally driven characters and situations rather than blood and gore.

Guest Blog: “The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows”

“The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows

By Geneve Flynn

Featured Author: Lee Murray

Southeast Asian mythology is much less familiar territory for many horror fans. While vampires, werewolves, and zombies are well-known, creatures such as the tiyanak, the penanggalan, the pontianak, and the nukekubi are less so. Does that make them scarier? Let’s dive in and see.

Tortured Willows is a newly released collaborative collection of sixty horror poems by four of the authors from the Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, Christina Sng, and Geneve Flynn showcase some of these creepy mythological creatures in their poetry. In this blog series, we chat to each of the contributors about their monsters.

Please say hello to Lee Murray.

GF: Hi Lee! Congratulations on your wonderful poems! Please tell us a little more about Tortured Willows, and what inspired you to create this collection.

LM: The response to Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, an anthology comprising fourteen stories by horror writers of Southeast Asian descent, has surpassed all our expectations, so a second volume of some sort seemed inevitable, although perhaps not quite so soon! Nor had I expected that second volume to take the form of a poetry collection. Tortured Willows arose out of a discussion between you, me, and Angela Yuriko Smith not long after the Bram Stoker Award announcements. We were all still reeling about the reach of the book and the broader dialogue the stories had provoked, when someone (okay, it might have been me) suggested that a collaborative poetry collection might allow us to expand on, and even deepen, the dialogue introduced in Black Cranes through use of media other than prose. What if we were to write a collection of poems that explored the themes of otherness and expectation as they applied to our own diaspora? Perhaps we could reach an even wider readership? Angela, always effervescent, was wildly enthusiastic. Poet Christina Sng, whose novelette “Fury” (her longest work to date) features in Black Cranes, also felt she had more to say. You said yes. That’s when the terror set in. While I was thrilled to work with my Crane sisters again, I’m fairly new to poetry other than as a consumer of it, so what followed was one of the most intensely terrifying periods of my writing life. I was a fledgling poet with only around a dozen poems published previously. What did I know about writing a cohesive series of poems which might dovetail with work by experienced, acclaimed poets like Angela and Christina? But, keen to learn more about the New Zealand-Chinese diaspora as it applied to women, including in my own family, I dived in, using poetic forms and historic archives to structure and inform my work. I approached each individual poem as a tiny story whittled down to its bare bones. And of course, since Tortured Willows is a collection of horror poetry, it seemed as natural as air to turn to Asian myth and monsters for added inspiration.

GF: I loved getting a glimpse of some of your very personal experiences as part of the New Zealand-Chinese diaspora. Your poem “tiyanak” draws a comparison between being drained from the many demands and expectations placed on Asian women and the care of a grotesque vampiric baby. Please tell us more about this creature.

Picture attribution- ShareAlike 4.0 International CC By SA4.0

LM:  The tiyanak is a monster of Filipino origin, although similar creatures exist in other Asian cultures. The creature is formed when the body of a dead foetus or infant is inhabited by an evil spirit, or it occurs as the result of a union between a demon and a human. Often found mewling in the forest by hapless travellers, the tiyanak is an insatiable and vengeful vampire, appearing as helpless human baby at first, and later, when it has ensorcelled its victim, it reveals its true vampiric and parasitic self, even as it devours them. The creatures are said to have bloodshot eyes, pointed ears, and tiny sharp teeth. In some versions, they have elongated limbs and wrinkled old-man skin, which they shed in the same way a snake does. Author Isabel Yap describes the creature beautifully in her story “Grass Cradle, Glass Lullaby” in Margrét Helgadóttir’s gorgeous anthology Asian Monsters:

“I held you against my heart and let you rest there, and I could feel your red eyes boring into my skin, hear you hissing. I was afraid, but love is like that. Sometimes, it requires bravery, asks us to quell our fears. Your teeth! Your eyes—fire dancing! And the way all of your skin creased around your face, into terrible wrinkles…” (page 67).

Gabriela Lee is equally eloquent in her story “Rites of Passage” which appears in Black Cranes, describing the monster’s “red-rimmed eyes that do not have a speck of white—the entire sclera is firelight bright” (page116), its smile as “blood coated” (page 116), and its skin darked by the sun and some slick substance that seems to coat it from head to toe” (page 115). For me, the tiyanak was the ideal metaphor to describe the expectations placed on Asian women, who are socialised to sacrifice their own desires in favour of family and community, even to the point of death. This is a lesson I have learned well, so much so that I find it hard to say no. As a result, there are times when I’ll still be awake at 2- or 3am for nights on end, working on other people’s projects at the detriment of my own goals. I wrote “tiyanak” at just such a moment. Here is an excerpt from the poem:

innocence

it latches on

as ever

slivering flesh

to gorge on blood and milk

its tiny claws grip-grasping

tiny teeth rasping

feed me, feed me

GF: Such a chilling image, so perfect to depict how expectations can drain us dry. You reference another creature, the nine-tailed fox in “fox girl.” Where does this myth come from, and what does it symbolise in your poem? 

LM: The inspiration for my poem “fox girl” was Rena Mason’s gorgeous story “The Ninth Tale” from Black Cranes. Of course, I already knew of the shape-shifting fox spirit of Asian mythology (among them Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Vietnamese) and the nine mortal iterations the creature must go through in order to return to the celestial realm as her true self, but Rena’s story was so beautiful and so imbued with magical folklore that I was inspired to revisit those tales again. In general, the fox spirit takes the form of a beautiful woman while still retaining some of its fox attributes: paws, ears, or even the tails representing the lives it has lived. Consider this first paragraph of Rena’s “The Ninth Tale” from Black Cranes, for example:

“The fox spirit straightened the skullcap, moist with blood, atop her head then stepped over the headless corpse from which she’d taken it. Her hind paws transformed into petite, human lotus feet adorned in pointy shoes embroidered with golden silk. This visit, her name would be Júhua, like the chrysanthemums woven in the fabric near her toes. The eight tails behind the fox spirit became long braids, winding themselves into intricate loops and circles, concealing the bone that aided her in keeping a human guise.” (page127).

The story, and my subsequent reading, got me thinking about how fox spirits are outsiders, women travelling through time and across lands while wearing another person’s skin, all with the view to achieving enlightenment and (hopefully) returning to their home in the heavens. I likened their journeys to the Asian diaspora in New Zealand, and I was lucky enough to secure a fellowship to write a short poetry collection on this theme. “Fox spirits are very lucky,” writes Ho Pham in Vixen. But that isn’t always true for the women whose form the creatures inhabit. As I dived into New Zealand’s newspaper archives, I uncovered some horrific tales about Chinese women’s lives here, and although I intend to explore the notion further, I was immediately prompted to write a poem and capture my reactions. “fox girl,” a terzanelle, was the result, the repeated lines intended to show the ongoing iterations of the creature’s lives and the common themes of otherness and persecution. Here are a few stanzas from the poem:

in a former life, in another time

a fox girl departs from the land of jade

in a former life, in another time

to a distant cloud where fortunes are made

nine obedient wives, all refugees

a fox girl departs from the land of jade

amid ugly tongues and eyes that won’t see 

one hangs herself in her husband’s kitchen

nine obedient wives, all refugees

*Watercolour by Lee Murray.

GF: Oh my goodness! I love both the poem and your stunning artwork. The fox spirit illustrates the diasporic experience so beautifully. 

Thanks so much for introducing us to some of the mythology that features in your poetry. If you’d like to read the poems mentioned in this blog series, Tortured Willows is available from Yuriko Publishing.

 ____________________________________________________________________________________

Praise for Tortured Willows:

Tortured Willows bleeds, sobs and howls with rage.”—Stephanie Ellis, writer and poet, co-author of Daughters of Darkness

“Thought-provoking, unapologetically brutal, and downright unsettling, Tortured Willows is a collection unlike any you’ve read before…and one you’re not likely to forget. Murray, Flynn, Smith and Sng have not just raised their voices, they’ve roared them into the pages, and the result is simply superb.”—Rebecca Fraser, award-winning author of Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract.

“In Tortured Willows, the many veils of a woman’s heart are peeled back, revealing multi-layered petals of an aching beauty, rooted on a stem of vulnerable resistance.”—Jamal Hodge, director, writer, visionary

“This is a brilliant book, insightful and scintillant. Construed as a thematic sequel to the award-winning Black Cranes (the anthology edited by Murray and Flynn and containing fiction by Sng and Smith), it may also be viewed as a distillation. The theme is strong, but the lessons reach beyond it. Cutting across rhetoric and euphemism, Tortured Willows will hold meaning for whoever dares read it.”—Kyla Lee Ward, Bram Stoker Award®-nominated poet

Tortured Willows

Bent. Bowed. Unbroken

The willow is femininity, desire, death. Rebirth. With its ability to grow from a single broken branch, it is the living embodiment of immortality. It is the yin that wards off malevolent spirits. It is both revered and shunned.

In Tortured Willows, four Southeast Asian women writers of horror expand on the exploration of otherness begun with the Bram Stoker Award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women.

Like the willow, women have bent and bowed under the expectations and duty heaped upon them. Like the willow, they endure and refuse to break.

With exquisite poetry, Christina Sng, Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, and Geneve Flynn invite you to sit beneath the tortured willow’s gravid branches and listen to the uneasy shiver of its leaves.

 https://www.amazon.com/Tortured-Willows-Bent-Bowed-Unbroken/dp/1737208334

Lee Murray is an author, editor, screenwriter, and poet from Aotearoa-New Zealand. She is the winner of 12 Sir Julius Vogel Awards, three Australian Shadows, two Bram Stokers, and a Shirley Jackson Award, and has been a finalist in the Aurealis, British Fantasy, and Imadjinn Awards, among others. Her work includes military thrillers, the Taine McKenna Adventures, supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra (with Dan Rabarts), and short fiction collection, Grotesque: Monster Stories. Other works include non-fiction title Mark My Words: Read the Submission Guidelines and Other Self-editing Tips with Angela Yuriko Smith, and several books for children. LitReactor’s Editor of the Year for 2021, Lee is the curator-editor of eighteen volumes of speculative fiction, among them Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women (with Geneve Flynn). She is co-founder of Young NZ Writers and of the Wright-Murray Residency for Speculative Fiction Writers, HWA Mentor of the Year for 2019, NZSA Honorary Literary Fellow, and Grimshaw Sargeson Fellow for 2021. Tortured Willows, a collaboration with Angela Yuriko Smith, Christina Sng and Geneve Flynn was released in October 2021. Read more at  https://www.leemurray.info/

Historian of Horror : Riverdale’s Resident Sorceress

Once upon a time, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit, and John L. Goldwater decided to get into the nascent comic book publishing business. Using their first initials, they started MLJ Magazines, Inc. Their first title, Blue Ribbon Comics, hit the stands in September 1939. A couple of months later, Pep Comics premiered, featuring the first patriotic American super-hero, the Shield. And so on. 

MLJ put-putted along, never becoming a major player in the growing super-hero market, never challenging any of the Big Three of the time, DC, Fawcett and Quality, for supremacy. Their heroes were all second-banana types, not making much impact outside of their very narrow lane other than a brief, regional radio show based on the Black Hood. Until 1941, that is.

The twenty-second issue of Pep (December 1941) introduced a buck-toothed, red-headed teenager named Archie Andrews, along with his fellow adolescent attendees of Riverdale High School; Betty Cooper and Jughead Jones. Nothing exceptional, on the surface, but for some reason, Archie clicked with a public that had so far not paid much attention to MLJ’s product. By 1946, the company was renamed Archie Comics, and the super-hero line was abandoned in favor of the adventures of Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica Lodge, Reggie Mantle, and the rest.

This is not their story, however. Fast forward to those halcyon days of the early 1960s, when the supernatural was infiltrating the culture like never before. We’ve talked about this in past columns. Monsters and ghosts, and witches, were everywhere. Not even the stable, steady, reliable and, to be honest, tediously repetitive world of Archie Andrews was immune. 

Okay, I’ll admit to not being much of a fan of Archie and his world in my early days of reading comic books. The stories seemed to be a lot of variations of the same themes – Betty and Veronica fought over Archie, Reggie tried to sabotage Archie’s efforts to date one or the other of the girls who, inexplicably, adored him, and Jughead avoided girls altogether in favor of hamburgers. I did dip into the publisher’s brief effort to revive their super-heroes from the 1940s under the secondary imprint of Radio Comics, but I had already discovered DC and Marvel by then. Superman and Spider-Man got my twelve cents, not Fly Man or the Shield.

Anyhow, Archie Andrews. Repetitive his adventures might have been, but his world had spawned dozens of titles by 1962. One, Archie’s Madhouse, contained more jokes and games than anything resembling a story. Still, Archie and crew dominated the title for the first dozen issues. Beginning with the thirteenth issue (July 1961), however, monstrous beings slowly edged the Riverdale gang out of the title. Archie and the rest made token appearances on the covers and in the interior features, but the seventeenth issue (February 1962) didn’t even accord them that courtesy. 

And so it went until issue #22, cover-dated October 1962. Instead of the usual Frankenstein, Dracula, and Wolf Man variations, the first story introduced a beautiful blonde teenaged witch named Sabrina, her cat/familiar Salem, and head witch Della. No last names, yet. The story, such as it was, laid down the rules of witchcraft; basically, the inability of witches to sink in water or fall in love. 

Subsequent stories were pretty much about Sabrina’s efforts to get around the not-falling-in-love rule, her habit of misdirecting love potions or being forced by her superior witches to sabotage her high school’s sporting events. Which was not, by the way, Riverdale. She attended Baxter High School in those years. In fact, she had no interactions with Archie and his gang at all until she joined the Saturday morning cartoon show, The Archie Comedy Hour, in 1969. She had acquired a boyfriend, Harvey, by then, and her two supervising witch aunts had been identified as Hilda and Zelda. Still no last name.

Pseudo-band The Archies were the stars of the cartoon show. They had a number one hit in the United States, a Monkees reject called Sugar, Sugar. The band was in reality a group of sessions musicians assembled for the purpose of recording bubblegum songs for the show, some of which were disseminated on the backs of cereal boxes. I had a few of those. Concurrently, Sabrina was finally integrated into the comic book world of Riverdale, starting with an appearance in Archie’s T.V. Laugh-Out #1. She got her own cartoon show in 1970, and a year later her own comic book title which ran for seventy-seven issues, until 1983. An elementary school version of her also ran in Little Archie from issue #59, cover-dated May 1970.

In 1972, Sabina was recruited to be the hostess of a horror anthology titled, Chilling Adventures in Sorcery, as Told by Sabrina. That only lasted two issues, then it carried on without her under a new title, a new imprint, Red Circle Comics Group, and a new artist, Gray Morrow. Red Circle lasted as long as the comic did, nine issues altogether. Everything was Archie after that, as Sabrina popped up in a variety of the company’s titles through the 1980s and into the 1990s, including annual Christmas Magic issues.

Sabrina and her aunts finally got a last name, Spellman, in 1996, in a television movie and subsequent series that ran for four seasons on ABC and an additional three on the WB. Another couple of animated series and a pair of sequels to the movie followed. More comic book titles also came and went over the years, including a manga-inspired series. 

The whole world of Archie was rebooted in 2015 into a more adult version, called New Riverdale in the comics, and two years later on television as simply Riverdale. Sabrina appeared in the comics from the beginning, but only recently dropped in on the television show after three years in her own in the separate series, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

So, there you have it. Next time, we matriculate to university to take a look at the classic novel of witchcraft on campus, Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife, and the three films based on it. Hope you’ll join me in two weeks for that. In the meantime, here’s a little lagniappe – a tasty treat from my favorite early 80s cheesy girl band, Toto Coelo. Enjoy.

Until next time, my loyal pundits of the peculiar…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

“The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows” Guest Blog by Geneve Flynn

“The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows

Featured Author: Christina Sng

Southeast Asian mythology is much less familiar territory for many horror fans. While vampires, werewolves, and zombies are well-known, creatures such as the tiyanak, the penanggalan, the pontianak, and the nukekubi are less so. Does that make them scarier? Let’s dive in and see. 

 Tortured Willows is a newly released collaborative collection of sixty horror poems by four of the authors from the Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, Christina Sng, and Geneve Flynn showcase some of these creepy critters in their poetry. In this blog series, we chat to each of the contributors about their monsters.

Please say hello to Christina Sng.

GF: Please tell us about the themes you explore in this collection.

CS: I explore themes of justice and vengeance as well as traditions in Singapore.

GF: Those are threaded through your work so beautifully. It’s wonderful getting a glimpse into Singaporean culture and mythology. Your poem “Pontianak” features a vengeful female spirit. Where does it come from and how did you add a twist to her legend? 

Picture Attribution: “Kuntilanak-post” by scarysideofearth is licensed under CC BY 2.0

CS: Pontianak was the first ghost most children my age heard about (apart from the “real life” headhunters which were infinitely more scary to us). We were often told to be good or the Pontianak will come and get us. Only when I was older did I read that she only haunted men, usually flagging them down from the side of the road; she had a beautiful face, long black hair, and a flowing white dress. Here are a few lines from my poem:

She stood by the road alone

In her white flowing dress.

The night was moonless,

The streetlight, broken and bent.

The wind promptly picked up,

Gently billowing her hems.

While doing research for this book, I realized a lot of the traditional horror stories centered around women ghosts out to get men. Why? Who came up with these stories? Elders who were men? Possibly, in this patriarchal society. 

Her mother always told her,

Never get into a car with a stranger.

She nodded, fearless this time.

The worst had already happened.

In this day and age, we know there’s another side to the story. The woman’s side. The atrocities that happen to women every day all over the world are too often silenced by society. 

So I tell the woman’s side of the story. Give her a voice. Because we are human beings with thoughts, feelings, and dreams as well. We have volition. We exist. Here are our stories.

GF: The characters in your poems have an unquiet fury that is very powerful. Your poem “Flat” gives voice to a character in the strange urban myth of the flat-faced woman. How did you hear about her and what does she symbolise in your work? 

CS: Oh gosh. As a teen, the flat-faced woman freaked me out so bad. This was a story told to me by someone and I don’t remember who and how. During those days, these stories were often not written down and were just told from person to person. But the details of the story have been preserved in this poem. 

She turned toward me,

Hair parting like the Red Sea.

I gasped 

And screamed uncontrollably.

She had no face!

Where it should have been

Was flat and featureless,

A face of clay before it was molded.

As I grew up, I no longer feared her. Instead, I wondered what led her here. What was her story? Now, I know. It’s the story of so many domestic violence victims, except she came back and she found justice for herself and then, for others.

GF: Thanks so much for introducing us to some of the mythology that features in your poetry. If you’d like to read the poems mentioned in this blog series, Tortured Willows is available from Yuriko Publishing.

Praise for Tortured Willows:

Tortured Willows bleeds, sobs and howls with rage.”—Stephanie Ellis, writer and poet, co-author of Daughters of Darkness

“Thought-provoking, unapologetically brutal, and downright unsettling, Tortured Willows is a collection unlike any you’ve read before…and one you’re not likely to forget. Murray, Flynn, Smith, and Sng have not just raised their voices, they’ve roared them into the pages, and the result is simply superb.”—Rebecca Fraser, award-winning author of Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract.

“In Tortured Willows, the many veils of a woman’s heart are peeled back, revealing multi-layered petals of an aching beauty, rooted on a stem of vulnerable resistance.”—Jamal Hodge, director, writer, visionary

“This is a brilliant book, insightful and scintillant. Construed as a thematic sequel to the award-winning Black Cranes (the anthology edited by Murray and Flynn and containing fiction by Sng and Smith), it may also be viewed as a distillation. The theme is strong, but the lessons reach beyond it. Cutting across rhetoric and euphemism, Tortured Willows will hold meaning for whoever dares read it.”—Kyla Lee Ward, Bram Stoker Award®-nominated poet

Tortured Willows

Bent. Bowed. Unbroken

The willow is femininity, desire, death. Rebirth. With its ability to grow from a single broken branch, it is the living embodiment of immortality. It is the yin that wards off malevolent spirits. It is both revered and shunned.

In Tortured Willows, four Southeast Asian women writers of horror expand on the exploration of otherness begun with the Bram Stoker Award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women.

Like the willow, women have bent and bowed under the expectations and duty heaped upon them. Like the willow, they endure and refuse to break.

With exquisite poetry, Christina Sng, Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, and Geneve Flynn invite you to sit beneath the tortured willow’s gravid branches and listen to the uneasy shiver of its leaves.

LINK: https://www.amazon.com/Tortured-Willows-Bent-Bowed-Unbroken/dp/1737208334

Christina Sng is the two-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A Collection of Dreamscapes and A Collection of Nightmares. Her poetry appears in numerous venues worldwide and has garnered many accolades, including prizes and nominations for the Elgin Awards, the Dwarf Stars, the Rhysling Awards, the Pushcart Prize, and honorable mentions in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and the Best Horror of the Year. Visit her at christinasng.com and connect @christinasng.

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: A Christmas Carol (2019)

Thought Provoking and Mature A Christmas Carol (2019)

by Kristin Battestella

To allow himself rest in the afterlife, the deceased Jacob Marley (Stephen Graham) aides The Ghosts of Christmas Past (Andy Serkis), Present (Charlotte Reily), and Future (Jason Flemyng) in orchestrated a change for good in his soulless, corrupt business partner Ebenezer Scrooge (Guy Pearce). Scrooge’s bitter ways effect the health, happiness, and welfare of his clerk Bob Cratchit (Joe Alwyn) and his wife Mary (Vinette Robinson), but confronting Scrooge’s horrible life may not be enough to redeem the miser…

The 2019 BBC miniseries A Christmas Carol produced by Ridley Scott (Prometheus) and Tom Hardy (Venom) is a darker imagining of the perennial Charles Dickens tale with episodic chapters originally called “The Human Beast,” “The Human Heart,” and “A Bag of Gravel” airing stateside on FX as one three hour event. Director Nick Murphy (The Last Kingdom) and writer Stephen Knight (Peaky Blinders) obviously have more time to fill than the more traditional, idyllic, paired-down tellings. Rather than the same old saccharin “God bless us, everyone!” these days viewers expect television to bring on the relatable Victorian bitterness. We often glorify the past, but this A Christmas Carol doesn’t underestimate an audience intimately familiar with weighing every action by gain mentalities and who you know and how much money you have getting you anywhere in life uphill struggles, abuses, and humiliation. Urination, grave desecration, bastards, and F-bombs immediately set this adult tone before ominous winds, crows, eerie graveyards, and a frosty ethereal London 1843. Church bells, purgatory supernatural, and almost Shakespearean asides accent the six feet under coins on the eyes, and no rest in peace as hellish forges, chains, and swinging coffins invoke a much more grim penance. Phantom sleighs dragging the chained behind lead to echoes between the counting-house and the spirit realm. Rattling in the fireplace and cutaways to the point of view from an empty chair realistically lay the forthcoming between worlds – embracing the Victorian off-kilter faerie parallel rather than just a sudden, mere holiday intervention as is often portrayed. Time is taken in A Christmas Carol with handwashing a la Lady Macbeth and ghostly versus guilt-ticking clocks. Hypocritical analysis digs deeper than humbug archetypes, and great horror imagery sets off the familiar but transposed text delivered deftly and naturally without any try-hard ye oldeth. Villainous silhouettes grow darker when we get the famous workhouses, prisons, and let them die disturbing. Shadows and black horses take the place of the locomotive on the stairs as other animal kindnesses born out of cruelty and hopeful lantern flashes contrast the creaking gate and ghostly door knocker. While most adaptations have a quick start or only run eighty minutes themselves, here it takes an hour before we even get to the Scrooge and Marley encounter. This A Christmas Carol simmers and broods, for these apparitions have been a long time coming with thumps in the night, groaning houses, clicking locks, and guilty consequences. Chilling reasons for that scarf usually around Marley’s jaw become macabre shocks as A Christmas Carol takes the hallmarks of a story that’s tough to do wrong and runs with the one-on-one encounters, twofer deliveries, and fiery flashbacks. Faulty subcontracts and bribing officials led to bloody workhouse disasters, gas explosions, and coal mine collapses while Scrooge passed the blame and forged those symbolic chains.

The refreshing script simplifies the Dickensian wordiness yet we do get some of the sardonic undigested beef quips amid self-aware glances at the camera and eternity spent in a forest of abandoned Christmas trees and forgotten childhood memories. An act of kindness said to be given to someone in pain is rejected as the abused perpetuate abuse, dealing in greed and people as commodities. Those scarred mentally and physically by the cruel, cost-cutting overseers rightfully call upon revenge like a reverse It’s A Wonderful Life orchestrating this spiritual comeuppance. Snowfall and ash in the air mix as other realms and childhood fears merge with violent canes, creepy singsongs, and pets caught in the chilling crossfire in a house that can’t afford another mouth to feed. Hiding behind the bed curtains is used to frightful effect as A Christmas Carol shows what the book implies yet leaves nasty suggestions to the shadows. Hope, however, can be found small as a mouse, big as a camel, or even in fanciful book illustrations come to life to save a boy’s mind from his torturous reality. Unfortunately, people are only worried about themselves. Gifts are just unwritten debts and unprofitable affections. These spirits force us to relive the darkest moments of the picture we paint so we may unlearn the ills that have shaped who we are. Here A Christmas Carol feels timely and modern, layering the past with disturbing familiar faces and real-world terrors that harden a boy’s heart and break our Christmas spirit. Magical deflections, pleas to go home, and facing the horrors combine for superb duality and visualizations as children may or may not see spirits and two of the same character appear in the same place at once. Loom factories become massive calculators in an industrial fantasy hitting home the cold hard numbers. Tragedy for many is opportunity for the few, and that’s just good business to see pounds instead of people and exploit their weaknesses accordingly. Shameful humiliations done on Christmas Day are born not out of desire, but agonizing experiments testing the solemn limits of what good people will do for money. Viewers contemplate how far A Christmas Carol will go in examining the the value of human virtue, and Merry Christmas greetings are said for all the wrong reasons – justifying the prayers, warnings, and curses that one day the truth will look us in the mirror. Mining survivors unite in memorial choirs, and the poor make up the difference with happiness and love instead of itemizing priceless intangibles. Halos at the altar suggest salvation, but admitting regret or that love came too late to stop hatred isn’t enough against chilling figures in the dark, haunting drownings, cracking ice, and death shrouds. Tolling bells and heartbeats announce the fatal consequences as we accept our deserved fate. For all the spirited meddling, it is up to us to change and act for the benefit of others without expectation of reward as A Christmas Carol concludes in full Dickensian compassion.

The First Chapter of A Christmas Carol is excellent as is the second. However, when expanding such a short novella, the balance is bound to be uneven. Here Christmas Past is featured for almost an hour and a half – leaving twenty minutes for The Ghost of Christmas Present and only ten minutes for The Future. After such depth with The Past, viewers wonder why Andy Serkis just didn’t play one composite spirit? Upon moving on from him with only forty-five minutes left, suddenly this A Christmas Carol is rushed, running out of time, and on the same pace as any other adaptation. Onscreen Christmas Eve 1843 openings don’t match Marley’s 1842 grave marker and the supposed seven years since his passing, but nor do the 1851 death dates. The melancholy focus will tiresome audiences, yet the quick finale feels like this should have been longer – a four-hour, two-night event. All that Past just opened Scrooge up so The Present can show warmth by making him wear a scarf and tinge his heart in a third of the time? The often excised Ali Babi brings a dash of childhood wonder into such grim, but making The Ghost of Christmas Present a woman to soften up Scrooge negates the progressive gender change and defeats the purpose of ditching young Scrooge’s for love or money choice. While losing the seemingly essential festive Fezziwig works wonders, the exclusion of eavesdropping on Nephew Fred’s is a missed opportunity when you’ve made his mother The Ghost of Christmas Present. The Past repeatedly tells Scrooge this is not a game – long after Scrooge stops making passive-aggressive asides – but Fred’s mocking his uncle and Scrooge’s family resentment would have fit in well with this bitter A Christmas Carol. Viewers begin to notice famous wording and elements missing. Did we skip an episode? Did the editor lose a reel? My favorite moment with Ignorance and Want is also excised when the decrepit child motifs would have fit these acerbic themes, and the casting lots on the bedclothes bargaining is another profiting on death horror that is surprisingly absent as if the writers simply didn’t finish adapting the fourth stave of the book or the production plum ran out of time and money. At times A Christmas Carol doesn’t seem to trust what it has in these exceptional performances and the timeless source material, adding in extra dialogue when looking at the camera directly implies the fourth wall is already broken and the spiritual work is coming for us next. Some truly good or innocent and in tune characters are said to see the usually invisible Scrooge and company – a haunting provocation wonderfully bringing this seeming radical A Christmas Carol right back to Dickens, for “I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.”

Occasionally Guy Pearce (Brimstone) looks top hat debonair as Ebenezer Scrooge, but the greased hair, liver spots, curled lip, and scratchy voice are looking foul decrepit to match the black ink said to run through his veins. According to Scrooge, gifts are falsely sought and dressed in ribbons to create artificial happiness and fake grins. No one really means their tidings of joy, and the December 25 dates, wise men, and snow in Palestine “facts” are just more perpetuated lies revealing who we presume to be and who we really are on Christmas or any other day. If such yule transformations were true, then why aren’t we such lambs every day with one day of misery to say what we really mean? Scrooge remains isolated in his office, looking out his window on the noisy world as time is taken for his extrapolated soliloquies on pretense and humbug. However, even the camera pulls back when he approaches, recoiling at his despicable holiday honesty. Scrooge is obsessed with counting, an OCD itemizing when he’s frustrated by poor fools and pesky specters. After talking to himself and almost missing Marley, Scrooge is angry at the deceased’s appearance, defiant, and regrets nothing. Although put in his place early with scary past confrontations, he uses his history to justify why he is this way but not that he needs to change. Shrewd Scrooge buys liquidating businesses under price before selling them at true value and smiles at the wheeling and dealing done in his prime. He even tells The Ghost of Christmas Past to write off a new coat as a business expense if subjects keep clawing and crying on his robe. Repeatedly rationalizing every profit over human cost and exploiting all opportunities despite any anguish, Scrooge revels in dangling the keys to his safe before the desperate. Once defensive and refusing to look, he grows ashamed of his actively cruel behavior in an excellent dual performance contrasting past and presents Scrooge side by side. Scrooge practices positive greetings in the mirror but looks more creepy doing so. He doesn’t know how to change even if he admits he may do things differently if given the chance, for it was his own innocence sold that spurred this solidarity with money. Scrooge regrets and apologizes, trying to break the spirit rules and interfere yet he refuses redemption. He accepts he was wrong and deserves to not be forgiven as softer hair and nicer skin suggest his revitalization. Scrooge runs through the street like George Bailey, closing his business and giving away money. Payoffs won’t make everything right but he has to start being a better person somewhere. Don’t we all? Although I wish we heard some of the traditional wording from him – and I want to make his long dress coat – once again I ask where the awards are for Guy Pearce. Sometimes, he also looks like Sean Bean here. I hadn’t noticed this before and now I demand they play brothers in future yearly gothic holiday adaptations. Van Helsing, Jekyll and Hyde, yes please. Please please please please!

Instead of just saying he sat beside Scrooge and tried to reach him, Stephen Graham’s (This is England) restless Jacob Marley has much more to do. Marley anchors the transitions between counting-house and underworld as the realms bleed through like a double negative. He wants his own absolution and needs Scrooge to get him such Clarence-esque wings, deepening the potential penance via his own encounters with the Ghost of Christmas Past. Anguished Marley thinks he’ll be stuck in purgatory forever if his redemption hinges on Scrooge. He believes their reality was a choice, also appearing after the spirits to admit how wrong they were in life, and it’s fascinating to see his realization as the culmination rather than the impetus of A Christmas Carol. Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings) looks like an undead, ancient Santa as the Ghost of Christmas Past – a cranky minder of souls perpetually burning forgotten holiday hopes. The character also appears as the evil Scrooge Senior in pure horror torment as well as the literary friend Ali Baba in bittersweet moments. His eerie hood is not the sentimental sprite we expect, and the dried wreath on his head carries a crown of thorns, Christ-like innocence lost. Instead of the distinguishing cap, a zoetrope hat casts past shadows on the wall in an excellent visualization of the then-new to see the old. Weary over Scrooge’s excuses, The Past sends progressive Ghost of Christmas Present Charlotte Riley (The Take) in the guise of sister Lottie Scrooge in a lovely change again deserving of much more than repetitive family exposition and narrating already seen actions from characters that could have said everything themselves. Logical Lottie understands Scrooge’s past pain, combining the scientific and sensitive to confront Scrooge before the mouth sewn shut, grave digger-esque Jason Flemyng (X-Men: First Class) as The Ghost of Christmas Future enters tolling a broken bell. He’s said to be the most terrifying of the spirits and the one who ultimately decides Scrooge’s fate, but unfortunately, he doesn’t really appear to do anything but provide the disturbing Tiny Tim fate. The Past had equally frightening moments, and The Future merely disappears as Scrooge ultimately amends on his own.

 

Joe Alwyn (also in Mary Queen of Scots with Pearce) doesn’t really stand out for me among the numerous lookalike blonde boy band-type actors abound these days. His Bob Cratchit seems somewhat young, weak, and ineffectual, but that is fitting for an overworked father trying to keep his meager family together. Scrooge thinks four lumps of coal is more than reasonable despite his clerk’s frozen ink and continues to rag on him for a word misspelled once five years ago. Exasperated Bob insists he doesn’t get angry and does his work perfectly to spite Scrooge. He doesn’t hate his employer and remains kinds to Scrooge, asking if he is himself when they have such surprisingly frank conversations on this peculiar Christmas Eve. Bob has to toe the line between passive-aggressive asides and really talking back or standing up to his boss. He tells Scrooge he knows indeed how precarious his situation is, making us wonder why “situation” as synonymous with “job” fell out of terminology when the family to feed or ill health reasons that one toils should be paramount. Vinette Robinson’s (Sherlock) Mary Cratchit is frazzled and snippy, making excuses to her husband and sketching stories for Tiny Tim because they have no money for books. Only having two little Cratchits and a relative aptly named Martha tightens the familial focus, and Mary resorts to terrible secrets and forgoes her pride in a desperate need to save her son. She prays to be forgiven for what she has to do and asks Jesus to turn his head over such blackmail and lies. The holiday means Mary has to revisit one terrible Christmas every year, repeatedly going outdoors rather than face the congested weight and manifested guilt as the spiritual influences come full circle. Rather than the usual poor but happy brevity, A Christmas Carol develops The Cratchits as conflicted people, embodying how the one who has to power to alleviate their suffering can cause more oppression without having to lay a creepy hand on anyone.

The titular icicle script ekes out the ghostly etching with a cold nib to match the frosted windows and meager candle flame frigid. Snow abounds alongside carriages, street lamps, sleighs, ice skating, and crowded streets. However, there are precious little signs of Christmas in A Christmas Carol. No holly, few wreaths or plain garlands, no old fashioned merry, and the only jolly comes in brief carol notes and fiddle melodies cut short. While the night time blue tint is easier to see, the over-saturation may be intentionally noticeable and otherworldly. There are also some unnecessary swooping pans over the cobblestone streets but fortunately, these are only used early on to set the Londontown bustle versus the paranormal underbelly. Stage-like blocking, lighting schemes, and careful attention to detail visualize characterizations with gleams of light shining through the windows as natural, hopeful rays or framing dark silhouettes as needed. The counting-house office is divided between a brighter front and a darker back office with a wall of ledgers between rooms that the clerk must repeatedly go around to talk to Scrooge. Intercut foreshadowing between worlds leaves onscreen space for characters on another plane, subtly establishing Scrooge and Marley’s partnership even if the men are technically not together in the same scene. Echoing footsteps, bells, chimes, and creaking invoke period as well as horror amid hellish red fireplaces and disturbing imagery. Pox marks and sullen pallors match the tattered gloves and shabby bonnets on the poor while slightly more refined styles set the wealthy apart with top hats, ascots, waistcoats, pocket watches, and frock coats. A Christmas Carol looks at the early Victorian part without relying on the expected women’s silhouette thanks to fantastical cloaks, steampunk touches, and choose special effects. Dark upon dark schemes set off the horror visuals and cave-ins as the fog and frigid grow inside as well as out in the largely empty interiors. Groaning walls and a growing bed are ominous without being overbearing. The optical tricks are simple with slow zooms or camera cuts to where a spirit might be, leaving the chill up the spine carried by one’s looking over his shoulder and frightful reaction shots – as the scares should be.

Certainly, there are more genteel family-friendly adaptations of A Christmas Carol, and this decidedly darker spin won’t be for those seeking any lighthearted Dickensian comforts. It also takes planning to settle in for the whole three-hour block stateside. Although the chapter title cards are retained and once we’re on this retrospective journey it’s tough to stop, having had the original UK episodic format would solve the dreary, dragging complaints. I watched this multiple times to pause and take notes, and there are more insights the more you watch. Despite an uneven weakness rushed in the latter half, the redemption arc fits this darker tone. Here there’s no overnight exuberance, and it makes the viewer consider how fast and superficial other interpretations now seem when the longer television format allows for such grim, thought-provoking extrapolation. It leaves one wanting more of this A Christmas Carol, and its unabashed look in the mirror is watchable beyond the holiday season – paralleling the words herein to be the best person we can be daily rather than just faking it at Christmas.

Read on for more Holiday Horror:

Tales from the Darkside 1 2 3 4

Bell Book and Candle

Krampus (2015)

Kbatz Krafts: A Pumpkin Car Makeover!

 

🎄🎃😱

A faded pink $8 Goodwill Little Tykes car shall be revitalized as a Cinderella pumpkin coach for the year-old family princess! Orange and green paints, dollar store accents, and thrift ingenuity combine for whimsical stem and vine motifs in this magical, affordable makeover! While the paint dries there is even more trash to treasure crafts – including glitter stockings and faux holiday candles. Let’s throw in a costume, tiara, and wand to match because why not?

 

 

Many would see a faded Little Tykes Princess Coup and think nothing of it. However, when I spotted this $8 Goodwill find, I immediately thought PUMPKIN! Ironically, procuring the right shade of orange spray paint was the toughest part, as most home improvement stores only carry the fluorescent construction orange. Ultimately, I ordered an elusive $20 six-pack of “Rustic Orange” online but only used three cans for the car body. The steering wheel and four base wheels were taped and papered as they would remain black, but the two coats of orange went well save for some drips when I titled the car to cover the undersides and odd angles. This coup model was also missing the removable floorboard which enables a child to be initially pushed before moving the car themselves Flintstones style, but fortunately, Little Tykes offers replacement parts. This likewise spray-painted orange floorboard actually cost twice as much as the thrift car price thanks to shipping, but as this Cinderella coup is for my one-year-old niece, and the floorboard allows the car to grow with her.

Touch-ups around the eyes and steering wheel were done with an acrylic orange, a slightly different color for dimension on the car’s little smiley face front. I picked up three cans of Seaweed green spray paint for the accents, but to get in all the tight spots the can have to be much too close – leading to problematic drips and a switch to an acrylic Spring Green from my stash. Two coats of this fresh, bright green and a gloss spray sealing coat leftover from my Halloween Cat House Makeover later and this little custom coach came together in a weekend at $44 compared to the $60 plus for a brand new but less unique coup. While the paint dried, I worked on a whimsical stem to top off the pumpkin transformation, using masking tape and cardboard shipping corners cut into various heights to create texture and a curly-cue end shaped with a pipe cleaner before hot glue both secured and added gnarly dimension as seen in my Cardboard Candle Clusters and Halloween Mystery Staff. Varying coats and blends of brown and white paint made for a warm and realistic if bemusing look.

Now while the stem dried, Christmas Elf Kbatz also worked on a personalized glitter stocking for our rescue cat and faux holiday candles. After contemplating doing oversize candy cane-style candles out of Styrofoam or pool noodles,I made us of several Pringles cans that I had previously taped together and hastily painted but didn’t quite like or know what to do with at the time. The light brown and white paint mix became a primer before two white coats and dollar store red tape spirals. Light bulb toppers from the dollar store were painted yellow ochre in the same technique as the Dark Shadows Sconces before being secured with hot glue faux candle wax drips. With the $4 candle detours complete and all touch-ups dry, it was time to attach the stem to the pumpkin car with more glitter green hot glue embellishing the root-esque base and blended painting to match. Dollar store green mesh tubing and $5 Goodwill ivy became pumpkin vine spirals and leaf accents, and for that extra Bibbidi Bobiddi Boo, a $7 thrift Cinderella costume, tiara, and wand await!

Outside of lucking into the car and waiting on spray paint drying times in mild December weather, this came together in four days. For crafty parents looking to make a unique themed vehicle or families seeking a fun holiday project, the second-hand imaginative possibilities here are priceless.

 

For more project photos, follow Kbatz Krafts on Instagram or Facebook!

Revisit More Kbatz Krafts:

DIY Cardboard Stained Glass Window

Carving and Baking with Real Pumpkin

DIY Flower Pens

Spooky Ride by Twin Musicom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Source: http://www.twinmusicom.org/song/250/spooky-ride Artist: http://www.twinmusicom.org

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1100270 Artist: http://incompetech.com/

Italian Morning by Twin Musicom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Artist: http://www.twinmusicom.org/

Anne Rice, The Queen of Horror Fiction

annericeOur Queen of Horror Fiction has passed on. Anne Rice was a gift to the literary world and whether you just enjoyed her vampire fiction, expanded into her witch and mummy stories, or were a collector of all her different genres, I think you’ll agree her impact on our world will not be forgotten.

Born on October 4th, 1941, she was 80 when she passed December 11th, 2021, with her son by her side. 

Initially using her writing to deal with the grief she experienced from the loss of her darling young daughter, Michele, Anne became a powerhouse of storytelling that touched too many lives to count. 

I didn’t get into Anne Rice’s work the normal way. I wasn’t a vampire fan. In fact, I’d not even read a vampire series until I happened upon hers quite by mistake. My gateway was the novel, Feast of All Saints.

Just before spring break my first year of college in the early 90s, we had to give oral book reports for a class. My report was about No Easy Place to Be by Steven Corbin (a great book in it’s own right) and my friend in the class did hers on Anne Rice’s Feast of All Saints. Now, you have to understand, I had never heard of Anne before, so when asked to swap my then favorite book, I was a bit hesitant. But the two books about racial inequality and the way people of color dealt with it seemed to echo each other. When my friend and I packed up after class, I gave in and we exchanged books. 

feastAt the time, I lived in the South of Market district of San Francisco, near Moscone Center. I had three jobs, went to college, and also had insomnia. Many nights I’d grab a book and head out to read by stairway light at Moscone until I got too cold. Feast of All Saints was a book that grabbed me from page one and didn’t let me go. I read all night and when I came home in the still-dark morning, I crawled into bed and kept reading while the sun rose outside my window. I cried, I cheered for the characters, I got angry, I cried some more. That is the way Anne’s work affected me. 600+ pages later, I was thirsty for more. The magic this woman created with words was a drug to me. I HAD to have another hit.

Ignorant college freshman I was, I wrote down her name and toddled up to this massive used bookstore that used to be on Powell to see if she had any other books to read.  When I asked the dude behind the counter if he had any books by someone named Anne Rice, he laughed at me and said, “Over there.” He pointed to a large endcap at the end of a row. 

Looking up at Anne’s ocean of work I was dumbfounded. Where did I start? Were they all stand-alones? Did I need to read them in order? Would I even like vampire stories? 

The next week was spent going back to the store several days in a row to purchase the next, and the next, and the next, until I decided to save the trip and buy three at a time. Still, I was back the next week for more. I couldn’t devour Anne’s work fast enough and luckily she had tons to choose from.

I read about vampires creating, loving, and killing each other. I read about witches living in decaying plantations and secret societies dedicated to recording supernatural activity. I read of mummies waking with an insatiable thirst for life and beautiful people being punished in the most shocking ways. I cried on a bus while reading Cry to Heaven. I scoffed at a stranger wanting to “borrow” my hard cover copy of Lasher. I daydreamed of the day when I might meet Belinda while boarding an elevator downtown.

Anne’s books are more than just stories about vampires and mummies and witches. They are about solid, in depth characters that have emotions and human faults. Through her stories, she made me feel a part of her world. She peeled away at the wallpaper of my mind and poured in tales I never even knew I wanted to hear. She spoke the language of the soul and somehow spelled it out by chapter so I could take it in at my own pace. And man, could that lady describe a room!

Anne has changed my life much the same way as she has changed many of yours. She gave me specimens to study which reflected back, caused me to study myself, and change my way of thinking. She inspired me to go down rabbit holes with my own writing and to be raw, emotional, and dangerous.

To say losing Anne is such a horrible loss to us all is an understatement. She will be missed by millions of readers and fans. If there is anything to console us, it is that she has left us a library of books to enjoy. Her books will go on to inspire and entertain generations to come. And all we can say is, thank you, Anne, for sharing your gift with us.


emzzzzzEmerian Rich is the author of the vampire book series, Night’s Knights. She’s been published in anthologies by publishers such as Dragon Moon Press, Hazardous Press, and White Wolf Press. Emerian is the podcast horror hostess for HorrorAddicts.net.

Historian of Horror: They Really are a Scree-um…

It was the spring of 1969. I was in fifth grade, and the school I attended was having some sort of carnival. There were games with cheap trinkets for prizes, a cakewalk, and a rummage sale. That’s where I found it – the 1965 novelization of The Addams Family television show, written by Jack Sharkey. I think they were asking a nickel for it. I grabbed it up, of course. I’d been a devoted fan of the show during its initial run from September 18, 1964, to April 8, 1966, because, well, of course, I was. 

That’s more than can be said of the creator of the characters and their milieu. Charles Addams thought the creepy old Second Empire house in which the Addamses resided wasn’t creepy enough. It was too clean, too well-maintained. Lurch was simply too good a butler, apparently.

As well, Gomez and Morticia and family were, in Charlie’s considered opinion, much too nice. In the single panel cartoons he’d been creating for The New Yorker since the late thirties, his creatures were most definitely not at all nice in any recognizable sense of the word. They were mean-spirited, malicious, and gleefully vicious. Moreover, their house was supposed to resemble nothing so much as a crumbling wreck, and Lurch ought to be closer to Frankenstein’s Monster than to Mr. Belvedere. The family from the television show impressed him as being more Ozzie and Harriet than Sawney Bean. Quick, go ask your grandparents who Ozzie and Harriet were. We’ll wait. Sawney Bean you’ll probably have to Google. At least until I get around to scribing one of these essays on that particular family’s nefarious misdeeds. 

All that didn’t stop Charlie from cashing the checks he got from ABC, but he didn’t exactly go out of his way to give the impression that he was sorry that the program only lasted for those sixty-four episodes. I, of course, was, but there is a resilience at that age that I envy in my declining years. Not even in concert with the nearly concurrent cancellation of The Munsters was I as devastated as I now, in retrospect, think I ought to have been. There were, to be sure, still a fair number of other psychotronic shows on American television in those days, and no reason to think that the regular broadcast of supernatural-spooky-adventure-packed programming would end.

But it did. By the time I acquired Sharkey’s book, the TV landscape was shifting towards serious detective and spy dramas, non-confrontational counter-culture humor variety shows, and news programming in prime time. Get Smart was out, Mission: Impossible was in. The much-too-edgy-for-the-CBS-censors Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was out, the funny but never really controversial Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In was in. The Addams Family was out, and 60 Minutes was in.

At least we still had The Beatles. Wait, what?!?!?!?

Oh, well.

As I mentioned in the last installment, John Astin selected Gomez as the name of the character he would play, the half-mad, lustful pater familias. He had most recently co-starred with Marty Ingles in a sitcom about a pair of incompetent carpenters, I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster. I have a vague recollection of having seen it once or twice. I don’t recall having been impressed, but I was five years old. What did I know?

The object of Gomez’ hammed-up affections was played by Carolyn Jones, who had a more impressive horror pedigree than her TV husband. She appeared in two of the most significant horror films of the 1950s, the 3-D extravaganza House of Wax with Vincent Price in 1953, and the first adaptation of Jack Finney’s novel, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in 1956. 

Uncle Fester was Jackie Coogan, a silent-era child star who discovered upon reaching maturity that all the money he’d earned acting alongside Charlie Chaplin and other major film stars of that era had been squandered by his parents. A law to prevent that was passed and was in fact called The Jackie Coogan Law. Forty-three years after achieving fame in The Kid, he shaved off what little hair he had left and stuck a trick lightbulb in his mouth on weekly television. 

Grandmama Frump was the delightfully named Blossom Rock, sister of the leading cinematic soprano from Hollywood’s Golden Age, Jeanette MacDonald. I don’t recall Grandmama belting out any operatic arias, but I bet she could have, between concocting her famous still-writhing dinners. Yummy! Blossom had a long career as a character actress in dozens of films, including I Married a Witch (1942), Gildersleeve’s Ghost (based on the radio show, 1944), Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954), and She Devil (1957).

The kids were Lisa Loring as Wednesday and Ken Weatherwax as Pugsley. Charlie might have had a point about them. They were cute and sweet, and wholly unlike their counterparts. Lisa grew up to be a lovely soap opera star. Ken quit acting to work behind the camera. 

Lurch was the six-foot-nine-inch Ted Cassidy, who later lent his ultra-deep voice to a number of Saturday morning cartoons. Like Rondo Hatten, he suffered from acromegaly, although in his case the disease manifested itself in altitude rather than hideousness. Ted was also the main portrayer of Thing T. Thing, the disembodied hand that was always ready to, um, help out around the house. An assistant director pinch-hit when Lurch and Thing were in the same scene. Thing was created for the show, although there was a 1954 cartoon in The New Yorker with a pair of disembodied hands changing the record on a phonograph. 

Cousin Itt was created for the second and final season of the show. Felix Silla, who at three-feet-eleven-inches was in great demand for roles suited to his stature for the next forty-five years, donned the long blond wig. In later incarnations, the second ‘t’ seems to have been used inconsistently. This disparity has caused numerous online arguments and more than a few bar fights, one is inclined to suspect. 

The family showed up on television again in 1973 as a Saturday morning animated program, with only Cassidy and Coogan returning to provide the voices of Lurch and Fester. Academy Award-winning actress Jody Foster was the voice of Pugsley. Think about that next time you watch The Silence of the Lambs. The show only lasted sixteen episodes.

Most of the original cast returned in 1977 for a TV movie, Halloween with the New Addams Family. Blossom Rock had suffered a stroke not long after the original series ended and was unable to participate. She passed away the next year at the age of eighty-two.

Ted Cassidy underwent heart surgery for a condition related to his acromegaly in 1979 but did not survive the operation. He was only forty-six. Carolyn Jones died of colon cancer in 1983, at the age of fifty-three. Jackie Coogan was sixty-nine when he passed away from heart failure in 1984, and Ken Weatherwax died of a heart attack in 2014. He was fifty-nine. Felix Silla was eighty-four when he passed on in April of 2021. Only John Astin, at ninety, and Lisa Loring are left. She’s six months older than I am and looks a lot better than I do. Astin was the only one of the original cast to participate in a second animated series, in 1992

The 1991 big-budget adaptation starring Raul Julia, Angelica Huston and Christopher Lloyd spawned a sequel, Addams Family Values, in 1993. Of all the reboots and re-imaginings, I think this brace of movies might have met or even exceeded Addams’ expectations. Alas, Raul Julia’s death from a stroke a year later ended the possibility of any further misadventures. 

None of the original show or feature film casts were around for the 1998 revival series produced in Canada and shown on Fox in the United States. I can’t honestly say I’ve ever seen any of the sixty-five episodes. A direct-to-video movie, The Addams Family Reunion, starring Tim Curry and Daryl Hanna, was released the same year. Carel Struycken returned as Lurch, having played the role in the two feature films. A 2010 Broadway musical and a pair of animated features in 2019 and 2021 complete the family’s saga to the present time, other than for a much-too-short series of not-even-remotely-officially-sanctioned-by-the-Charles-Addams-Estate YouTube videos starring Melissa Hunter as the Adult Wednesday Addams. Very funny stuff.

I wonder what Charlie would think about all that? Whatever his thoughts on the other goodies briefly described above, I suspect he’d be okay with Adult Wednesday Addams. Don’t you?

I no longer have that slim paperback book I bought at the school rummage sale in 1969. Somewhere along the way, I sold it or traded it, or lost it. I did recently find another copy on eBay. It cost me a bit more than a nickel. Not the fifty-four bucks Abebooks wants for theirs, but enough to buy a large-sized Big Mac meal and have some change left over for the Ronald McDonald House. It was worth the expenditure. I plan to hang on to this one. My wife says I really need to lay off the Big Macs, anyhow.

Many thanks to Linda H. Davis for the information in this and the previous episode. Her 2006 book, Charles Addams: A Cartoonist’s Life, has been an invaluable resource, along with the several collections of his cartoons I have in my collection. Highly recommended.

Coming up in our next installment, I’ll be examining the almost sixty-year adolescence of Riverdale High School’s perpetual student and resident teenage witch, Sabrina. It ought to be fun. Until then, oh ye questors after the quirky and the questionable…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Northanger Party Winners!

na2Thank you to all those who partied with us in the Facebook Group! Here are our winners!

Grand Prize Winner who gets a PRINT copy of
Northanger by Emmy Z. Madrigal
ALISON SCOTT

Runner-ups win a digital copy of
Northanger by Emmy Z. Madrigal
LOREN RHOADS & SELENE MACLEOD

Winners, please be on the lookout for a message from us. If you don’t hear from us, please email at horroraddicts@gmail.com so we can distribute your prize!

If you did not win,
Northanger by Emmy Z. Madrigal
is still available at Amazon.

Subscribe to this blog for more contests coming your way soon.
Happy Holidays!

Northanger Book Release Party Today!

Join us on Facebook for an all-day Northanger party!
DECEMBER 16th, 2021
Starting at 8am PST

Games, trivia, and prizes!
To enjoy the fun, join our group here:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/208379245861499
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Northanger  by Emmy Z. Madrigal

Kat is a horror fan. She loves to read, watch, and listen to ghostly, frightening things most people shy away from. When she meets her perfect match, Henry, she knows he’s made just for her, but finding out his father may be a murderer, puts a different spin on their relationship. Is Henry’s dad out for blood or just a misunderstood introvert who’s lost his wife? Only a trip to the famed murder house, Northanger, will reveal the truth.

Northanger is a contemporary rewrite of Jane Austen’s least rebooted classic novel, Northanger Abbey. The Clueless version, Northanger explores the fish out of water story of gothy teen Kat, as she’s introduced to the high-society scene of New York City. What would happen if Beetlejuice’s Lydia was plopped into Gossip Girl New York City?

“Emmy Z. Madrigal has crafted a delightful story based on Jane Austen’s classic, Northanger Abbey. She has spun it into a modern story that suits Miss Austen’s novel perfectly. Her modern heroine, Katherine Moorland (Kat), is a young girl who has lived a simple life on a farm, but has a vivid imagination that has been heavily influenced by the horror books she reads, the spooky music she listens to, and the macabre films she watches. It is a book that will appeal to both Jane Austen fans and lovers of the gothic novel, having fun elements of both.” ~ Kara Louise, author of Pirates and Prejudice a variation of Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice.


Emmy Z. Madrigal’s love affair with Jane Austen may have started late, but her belief that true love can overcome prejudices, differences, and adversity started very early on. Northanger is her modern take on Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Emmy lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son.

An Excerpt from Northanger, by Emmy Z. Madrigal

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Visit just one of the haunted houses in this excerpt from Northanger, by Emmy Z. Madrigal.


“I’m excited to see Woodston,” Kat said.

“It’s just the sort of place you’ll like. With a story you’ll love,” Henry said.

“Oh?”

“Yes.” Henry put down his coffee cup and leaned in to tell her the story. “Mr. Woodston was the grandson of old Mr. Northanger. In 1895, Mr. Woodston built the Woodston house for his fiancée. They went to New York for the wedding but on their way back, Mr. Woodston died in a carriage crash.”

“Oh my God, that’s horrible.”

“His bride was hurt, but recovered only to find herself in the house he’d built for her in secret. The new Mrs. Woodston lived there for a few months, but being so isolated and without her groom, she moved back to the main house with the Northangers and then shortly after, back to her family in New York.”

“Poor lady.”

“And on the same day of her husband’s death, not three years later, she succumbed to a fever and died without ever remarrying. Some blamed her death on a broken heart and there are rumors of the couple haunting Woodston.”

“Really?”

“Yes!” Henry grinned and went on, his voice grave indeed. “First the ghost of young Mr. Woodston, calling out for his bride Julieta. And second, Julieta calling out for her love. Yet, they can never find one another despite searching these many years later.”

Kat drew in an excited gasp. “Have you witnessed these ghosts?”

“No. It is just a story to frighten tourists.” He smiled, relaxing back into his chair. “But perhaps you are more sensitive and will witness them yourself.”

Kat smiled, knowing he was teasing her, but at the same time wondering if she would feel a ghost presence when they visited.

“Oh, here comes Ellen. She probably wants to say goodbye one last time.”

“Last time?”

“Yes, you know, before you’re killed by the ghosts of Woodston.”

Kat scoffed. “You tease.”

***

Henry strapped in a small backpack to the luggage rack and then got on the snowmobile. He offered a hand to Kat and she got on behind him, wrapping her arms around him.

“Hold on!” The snowmobile took off with a burst and she gripped him tighter around the waist. His body was warm and solid underneath the puffy parka he wore. A bump in the road unsettled her and he placed a gloved hand on hers, steading her. Piercing cold air stung her cheeks where her scarf, hat, and goggles met.

Before them, a blanket of white snow stretched out as far as the eye could see. Trees covered in white carved out a path leading to more trees.

The endless bank of trees reminded Kat of the scene in Suspiria where a panicked girl is running through the woods as Suzy looks out the cab window that rainy night she arrives at school. Kat’s eyes searched the trees as they whizzed by. It was daytime, but the trees stretched up so high above them, they blocked out the sunlight, causing the formation of strange shadows in the woods. Her eyes—with the help of her imagination—caused her to see some weird things in the woods. A snow mound became a wolf. The shadow of a tree became a human form.

It must have been twenty minutes before Henry slowed the snowmobile before a dark house looming in the distance. It wasn’t like the visibly scary cartoon haunted houses of The Addams Family or The Munsters. It was more like a retold ghost story, welcoming Kat in like her grandmother’s afghan. It was a place that held stories. A place where you could feel at home and connect with the ghosts of the past at the same time.

“What do you think?” Henry asked, removing his goggles.

Kat pushed down her scarf. “It’s awesome.”

Gazing up at the gray shutters and storm blue trim, Kat imagined a ghost in the window. There wasn’t one really, but the one in her imagination welcomed her home. She’d never seen a picture of Julieta Woodston, but in her imagination, she wore a ghostly white dress and glowed in the frame of the window in the attic.

A flash of Mrs. Havisham from Great Expectations came to Kat. Was there a dining room inside covered in cobwebs?

“Coming?” Henry slung the backpack over one shoulder and held out his hand for her to grasp. She took it and he helped her off the mobile. An icy patch in front of the stairs caused her to pitch forward into his arms. Her breath caught as she looked into his eyes. She could see flecks of gold in his stormy ocean gray.

“You all right?” he asked his rumble out of his chest under her fingertips.

“Y-yes. Yeah, sorry.”

His face was so close, she yearned to kiss him.

He let go of her, all except one hand, which he held as he led her to the door with no other falling incidents. As he opened the door, the ancient house smell surrounded her. Cedar. Old books. A little dust.

“I’ll get a fire started right away. Come in, it will get warm soon.” He closed the front door behind her and clicked on the lights with the loud solid plunk of an old electric switch. The foyer and stairs came alive.

“Oh, wow.”

The stairway was wide and took up half the entryway, leading up to a wide-halled balustrade railed with once-white spindles. The floor was an intricate wooden pattern of Greek design.

There were rooms on both sides of her, but what caught her attention first was an open door upstairs that creaked with movement.

Henry followed her gaze upstairs. “Wind from down here always makes that bedroom door move,” he said in explanation. “Or perhaps it’s the Woodstons welcome welcoming us in.”

Kat smiled.

“Let’s go to the parlor first, so I can start a fire. I promised Ellen I’d keep you warm.”

Kat followed Henry into the room on the right, decorated in light blue and furnished in modest but antique furniture. She took a seat on a dark blue, tufted chair and peeled off her winter gear while Henry started a fire.

The room was pretty and she could tell it would be bright on a sunny day with the curtains open. Compared to the rest of the house, the room was clean and organized. The antiques seemed genuine and even the curtains and wallpaper looked if not new, laundered. The wallpaper was blue and white toile and looked so familiar…and then she remembered a passage in one of her favorite books by Marie Gates.

The wallpaper in blue and white toile housed several families and couples taking advantage of a sunny meadow for picnics and frolicking in the lake. They were so lifelike, I wanted to reach out, pluck them from their ministrations, and place them in my pocket, but that was madness, right? But madness ruled in the house on the hill.

Mad House!” Kat exclaimed. 

Henry grinned. “I wondered if you’d pick up on that.”

“Did you truly redo this room to fit Mad House?”

“No, but when I washed the walls and found it in pretty good condition, I knew I had to keep it.”

“Wise decision.” Kat stared at the little Victorian people in hats and parasols picnicking and awed at the detail of each tiny face.

“Alrighty…fire started, would you like the tour while it warms up the place?”

“Sure.”

Tour the house with Henry and Kat by reading… Northanger.

Catherine Morland the Horror Addict

Hi! It’s Emmy and I am here to talk about the heroine of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland. You might not think that Jane Austen has anything to do with Horror, but you’d be wrong. She wrong a whole book around the subject.

You see, being a Gemini, I have a romance side and a horror side (Surpirze! It’s me, Emerian Rich) which makes me the perfect person to talk to you about Northanger Abbey and its horror-loving heroine, Catherine Morland.

I’ve been told people don’t like Catherine because she’s just a silly, naive girl that lives a large part of her life in her head. I’ve also been told that she’s un-relatable because she likes Gothic novels and horror. I will attempt to prove that Catherine Morland was not simply some ignorant young miss wiling away her hours in a fantasy world, but she was a horror fan misunderstood by her peers but with a healthy imagination.

To understand Catherine as a horror fan, you have to break down the attributes of a horror fan.

First:

We are people who like to be scared in a removed way through movies, books, and music. Inspecting a horrid situation from a distance not only allows us to experience danger without any real harm to ourselves but also prepare ourselves for the true horrors of life that may come— like the zombie apocalypse. Horror Addicts are just like any other fan. Fans of Jane Austen might read Jane Austen all weekend, or attend a Northanger Abbey ball. Horror Addicts might read Stephen King all weekend or go to a horror film festival. As a rule, we aren’t axe murders, we don’t glorify serial killers, and we definitely don’t want to die at the hand of a chainsaw-wielding maniac. We do, however, like spooky things like ghosts, vampires, and like Catherine Morland, spooky old Abbeys that may contain such creatures.

Second:

We have active imaginations. This may be said about any reader. How many times have you watched a movie based on a book and been dissatisfied? The movies are never better than books, right? Those of you who agree with that statement have vibrant imaginations. The reason they can’t make the movie to please us is because our imaginations have weaved such an awesome image of what we’ve read, that no movie could possibly match. Just like Catherine conjuring up this gothic idea of Mrs. Tilney’s room…and then being disappointed at it looking just like any old bedroom.

Third:

The third aspect of Horror Addicts is, we like to geek out with other Horror Addicts. One reason Catherine likes Henry so much is that he gets her. He is at least in part an addict himself. He is able to make jokes about the novel she’s read, and by teasing her, show he likes her passion and accepts that part of her. And who doesn’t want to be accepted by someone who understands you?

Fourth:

Which brings me to attribute number four. Horror fans often like to find the humor in things. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and often accompany our love of horror with comedy. Either in an attempt to lighten the mood of such serious scary stuff or just because we are generally jovial people. Another reason Catherine likes Henry is because he has a good sense of humor and makes her laugh. For someone who likes humor, Jane painted the winner pretty clear. Grumpy old General Tilney, pompous Frederick, and ridiculously boastful Thorpe have no chance. Henry is clearly the best choice.

So given these attributes of a horror fan,

I think we can all agree that Catherine Morland is one and although she has some growing up to do, just because she learned something about the difference between fantasy and reality does not mean she ceased being a horror addict. I like to think that she went on to read more Gothic novels and perhaps even wrote some herself, but learned to not take them so literally.

Contrary to popular belief,

Horror Addicts don’t tend to grow out of our fascination with the macabre. I hate it when I read reviews that say Catherine grew out of her innocence and realized horror was just for kids. I don’t think that’s what Jane was saying at all. I think she captured perfectly the vision of a young Miss who didn’t know how to enjoy her passion without letting it bleed into reality and by experiencing more and falling in love, she could experience her passion in a somewhat removed way that didn’t get her in trouble.

Now, this is one of my favorite passages (abridged) of Northanger Abbey and shows her Horror Addict tastes.

Again she passed through the folding doors, again her hand was upon the important lock, and Catherine, hardly able to breathe, was turning to close the former with fearful caution, when the figure, the dreaded figure of the general himself at the further end of the gallery, stood before her! The name of “Eleanor” at the same moment, in his loudest tone, resounded through the building, giving to his daughter the first intimation of his presence, and to Catherine terror upon terror. An attempt at concealment had been her first instinctive movement on perceiving him, yet she could scarcely hope to have escaped his eye; and when her friend, who with an apologizing look darted hastily by her, had joined and disappeared with him, she ran for safety to her own room, and, locking herself in, believed that she should never have courage to go down again.

When I read that, I imagined how I might feel, being watched by a tyrant, but also still wanting to solve the mystery… WHAT IS BEHIND THAT DOOR??

Catherine found herself alone in the gallery before the clocks had ceased to strike. It was no time for thought; she hurried on, slipped with the least possible noise through the folding doors, and without stopping to look or breathe, rushed forward to the one in question. The lock yielded to her hand, and, luckily, with no sullen sound that could alarm a human being. On tiptoe she entered; the room was before her; but it was some minutes before she could advance another step. She beheld what fixed her to the spot and agitated every feature. She saw a large, well-proportioned apartment, a handsome dimity bed, arranged as unoccupied with a housemaid’s care, a bright Bath stove, mahogany wardrobes, and neatly painted chairs, on which the warm beams of a western sun gaily poured through two sash windows!

Catherine had expected to have her feelings worked, and worked they were. Astonishment and doubt first seized them; and a shortly succeeding ray of common sense added some bitter emotions of shame. She could not be mistaken as to the room; but how grossly mistaken in everything else!–in Miss Tilney’s meaning, in her own calculation!

She was sick of exploring, and desired but to be safe in her own room, with her own heart only privy to its folly; and she was on the point of retreating as softly as she had entered, when the sound of footsteps, she could hardly tell where, made her pause and tremble. To be found there, even by a servant, would be unpleasant; but by the general (and he seemed always at hand when least wanted), much worse! She listened–the sound had ceased; and resolving not to lose a moment, she passed through and closed the door.

At that instant a door underneath was hastily opened; someone seemed with swift steps to ascend the stairs, by the head of which she had yet to pass before she could gain the gallery. She had no power to move. With a feeling of terror not very definable, she fixed her eyes on the staircase, and in a few moments it gave Henry to her view.

“Mr. Tilney! How came you up that staircase?”

“How came I up that staircase! Because it is my nearest way from the stable-yard to my own chamber; and why should I not come up it? And may I not, in my turn, ask how you came here? This passage is at least as extraordinary a road from the breakfast-parlour to your apartment, as that staircase can be from the stables to mine.

‘I have been to see your mother’s room.”

“My mother’s room! Is there anything extraordinary to be seen there?”

“No, nothing at all.”

“You look pale. I am afraid I alarmed you by running so fast up those stairs. Perhaps you did not know–you were not aware of their leading from the offices in common use?”

“No, I was not.”

“And does Eleanor leave you to find your way into all the rooms in the house by yourself?”

“Oh! No; she showed me over the greatest part on Saturday–and we were coming here to these rooms–but only… your father was with us. I only wanted to see…”

“My mother’s room is very commodious, is it not? Large and cheerful-looking, and the dressing-closets so well disposed! It always strikes me as the most comfortable apartment in the house, and I rather wonder that Eleanor should not take it for her own. She sent you to look at it, I suppose?”

“No.”

“Eleanor, I suppose, has talked of her a great deal?”

“Yes, a great deal. That is–no, not much, but what she did say was very interesting. Her dying so suddenly” (slowly, and with hesitation it was spoken), “and you–none of you being at home–and your father, I thought–perhaps had not been very fond of her.”

“And from these circumstances,” “you infer perhaps the probability of some negligence–or it may be–of something still less pardonable.”

She raised her eyes towards him more fully than she had ever done before.

Catherine Morland grew up in that moment. She realized sometimes when a most beloved mother dies, it’s just because she ceased to live, not because of some murder plot by an overbearing husband. And by learning the reality of such situations, this led her to build more devious and believable plots in her career as a novelist…or that’s how I’ve written the end in my head anyway. 🙂

In my modern take of Northanger Abbey, titled simply Northanger, I paint Catherine a a modern goth teen named Kat. Kat is a horror fan. She loves to read, watch, and listen to ghostly, frightening things most people shy away from. When she meets her perfect match, Henry, she knows he’s made just for her, but finding out his father may be a murderer, puts a different spin on their relationship. Is Henry’s dad out for blood or just a misunderstood introvert who’s lost his wife? Only a trip to the famed murder house, Northanger, will reveal the truth.

Check out a free preview below!

Northanger Book Release Party!

Join us on Facebook for an all-day Northanger party!
DECEMBER 16th, 2021
Games, trivia, and prizes!
To enjoy the fun, join our group here:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/208379245861499
na4

Northanger  by Emmy Z. Madrigal

Kat is a horror fan. She loves to read, watch, and listen to ghostly, frightening things most people shy away from. When she meets her perfect match, Henry, she knows he’s made just for her, but finding out his father may be a murderer, puts a different spin on their relationship. Is Henry’s dad out for blood or just a misunderstood introvert who’s lost his wife? Only a trip to the famed murder house, Northanger, will reveal the truth.

Northanger is a contemporary rewrite of Jane Austen’s least rebooted classic novel, Northanger Abbey. The Clueless version, Northanger explores the fish out of water story of gothy teen Kat, as she’s introduced to the high-society scene of New York City. What would happen if Beetlejuice’s Lydia was plopped into Gossip Girl New York City?

“Emmy Z. Madrigal has crafted a delightful story based on Jane Austen’s classic, Northanger Abbey. She has spun it into a modern story that suits Miss Austen’s novel perfectly. Her modern heroine, Katherine Moorland (Kat), is a young girl who has lived a simple life on a farm, but has a vivid imagination that has been heavily influenced by the horror books she reads, the spooky music she listens to, and the macabre films she watches. It is a book that will appeal to both Jane Austen fans and lovers of the gothic novel, having fun elements of both.” ~ Kara Louise, author of Pirates and Prejudice a variation of Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice.


Emmy Z. Madrigal’s love affair with Jane Austen may have started late, but her belief that true love can overcome prejudices, differences, and adversity started very early on. Northanger is her modern take on Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Emmy lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son.

Book Review: Tenebrae in Aeturnum (A Collection of Stygian Verse) by Benjamin Blake

 

 

Tenebrae in Aeturnum (A Collection of Stygian Verse) by Benjamin Blake, pub. Hippocampus Press, Nov. 2020.

5/5 stars

Benjamin Blake is a new – to me – poet. As someone who has been delving more and more into the world of dark poetry, it’s been a treat to discover a poet who will most certainly draw me back to his work in the future. From the start, he comes up with lines that just make you stop and read them again. I mean the line ‘The nightingale has stopped singing’, evokes so much, a doom-laden phrase that serves as a warning for what is to come. There follows a collection that completely lives up to this expectation of dread. Throughout, Blake uses imagery of death and despair; walls bleed and bodies burn alongside poems of suicides and war, sex, and abuse. The horrors of humanity are laid bare in expressions of beautiful darkness.

The textured and nuanced lines made me stop again and again to repeat them. I am someone who can almost ‘taste’ words and when I come across the right combination it is as if I am eating something solid. For me this collection is a veritable feast – my umami. From that first line to ‘A Sunken Star’ – ‘Some people are nothing but tombs/Filled with dried flesh and dust/And locked from the inside to Elderflower – ‘There are worse things than being alone/And the laughter’s turned to screams’, to A City, a Tomb – ‘What can one do/When they realise that the place they wish to escape from/Is actually where they belong?’, Blake delivers pearls and believe me, there are many more within the pages.

The shadow world of Blake’s poetry is a dark one but one which demands you cross his borders again and again.

Guest Blog : “The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows”

“The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows

Featured Author: Angela Yuriko Smith

Interviewer: Geneve Flynn

Southeast Asian mythology is much less familiar territory for many horror fans. While vampires, werewolves, and zombies are well-known, creatures such as the tiyanak, the penanggalan, the pontianak, and the nukekubi are less so. Does that make them scarier? Let’s dive in and see. 

Tortured Willows is a newly released collaborative collection of sixty horror poems by four of the authors from the Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, Christina Sng, and Geneve Flynn showcase some of these creepy critters in their poetry. In this blog series, we chat to each of the contributors about their monsters.

Please say hello to Angela Yuriko Smith.

GF: Hi Angela! Please tell us a little more about Tortured Willows, and what inspired you to create this collection.

AYS: In some ways, I think this collection created itself. I wrote a lot about the spirit of the Uchinanchu people and I feel like they were so happy to have a little bit of recognition they refused to let me write tame poetry and move on. I learned more about myself and my family in the time I wrote these poems than I have in my entire life. It was the hardest and best thing I’ve written yet.  

GF: That sense of personal resonance is so clear in your collection: as if you were a tuning fork that had just been struck. Speaking of personal resonance, your poem “The Nukekubi” is based on a real experience, which makes it even more chilling. What is a nukekubi, and when did you encounter her? 

Picture attribution:  https://www.evanseasyjapanese.com/nukeku 1

AYS: A nukekubi is a type of ghost whose head detaches from her body so she can travel. It is said to drink blood and cause harm for the sake of it. Incidentally, for all the Pokemon fans out there: Misdreavus is inspired by a nukekubi. I’d never heard of a nukekubi until I started doing this research and someone mentioned it. When I asked them to describe it I had chills because they were describing one of the ghosts from my teens. I was in Sweetwater, Tennessee which seems an odd place for an Asian ghost. I always thought she came with the house but now I wonder. Here are a few lines from my poem:

Like slick tentacles

her neck cords trailed to the ground

disembodied face

soaked wet from drowning

or perhaps from her own tears.

She couldn’t tell me.

GF: That sends ice down my spine; much creepier than the Pokemon version. As well as malevolent spirits, your collection features a benevolent creature called a shisa. What are they, and what do they mean? 

AYS: Here’s a photo of two shisa I painted recently. shisa were at the beginning of my Uchinanchu rabbit hole, which is appropriate because they are guardians that sit on rooftops and by doors (and anyplace else you can squeeze them) so I like to think they were guiding me in. They are related to the lion dogs in other Asian cultures, but one of the big differences with shisa is they are always a male and female pair. The Okinawans feel that men and women are different but of equal importance. The male dog always has his mouth open to drink in the luck and frighten away the demons. The female keeps her mouth closed to keep the luck in and seal out demons. I read somewhere that all shisa are alive, and all shisa are benevolent guardians. This probably explains why they are everywhere in Okinawa. As soon as I discovered shisa I became obsessed, but there aren’t as many here in the US so I had to make some of my own. They hang on my front door now. These lines are from my poem “Dreaming of Shisa”:

There can never be

too many shisa.

Crouching on rooftops, watching

beside the front gate.

Ryukyu lion dogs—

he breathes the luck in. She holds

her breath to keep it.

GF: Your paintings are gorgeous—such perfectly balanced guardians. Thanks so much for introducing us to some of the mythology that features in your poetry. If you’d like to read the poems mentioned in this blog series, Tortured Willows is available from Yuriko Publishing.

Praise for Tortured Willows:

Tortured Willows bleeds, sobs and howls with rage.”—Stephanie Ellis, writer and poet, co-author of Daughters of Darkness

“Thought-provoking, unapologetically brutal, and downright unsettling, Tortured Willows is a collection unlike any you’ve read before…and one you’re not likely to forget. Murray, Flynn, Smith and Sng have not just raised their voices, they’ve roared them into the pages, and the result is simply superb.”—Rebecca Fraser, award-winning author of Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract.

“In Tortured Willows, the many veils of a woman’s heart are peeled back, revealing multi-layered petals of an aching beauty, rooted on a stem of vulnerable resistance.”—Jamal Hodge, director, writer, visionary

“This is a brilliant book, insightful and scintillant. Construed as a thematic sequel to the award-winning Black Cranes (the anthology edited by Murray and Flynn and containing fiction by Sng and Smith), it may also be viewed as a distillation. The theme is strong, but the lessons reach beyond it. Cutting across rhetoric and euphemism, Tortured Willows will hold meaning for whoever dares read it.”—Kyla Lee Ward, Bram Stoker Award®-nominated poet

Tortured Willows

Bent. Bowed. Unbroken

The willow is femininity, desire, death. Rebirth. With its ability to grow from a single broken branch, it is the living embodiment of immortality. It is the yin that wards off malevolent spirits. It is both revered and shunned.

In Tortured Willows, four Southeast Asian women writers of horror expand on the exploration of otherness begun with the Bram Stoker Award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women.

Like the willow, women have bent and bowed under the expectations and duty heaped upon them. Like the willow, they endure and refuse to break.

With exquisite poetry, Christina Sng, Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, and Geneve Flynn invite you to sit beneath the tortured willow’s gravid branches and listen to the uneasy shiver of its leaves.

LINK: https://www.amazon.com/Tortured-Willows-Bent-Bowed-Unbroken/dp/1737208334

___________________________________________________________________________

Angela Yuriko Smith is a third-generation Uchinanchu-American and an award-winning poet, author, and publisher with over 20 years of experience in newspaper journalism. Publisher of Space & Time magazine (est. 1966), a Bram Stoker Awards® Finalist and HWA Mentor of the Year for 2020. To find out more visit angelayurikosmith.com.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Possessor

Possessor is a Sophisticated Sci-Fi Parable by Kristin Battestella

Writer and director Brandon Cronenberg’s (Antiviral) 2020 British/Canadian co-production Possessor is a stylish science fiction tale combining unethical psychological dilemmas and invasive horror as assassin Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) jacks into unwitting hosts with the help of handler Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to orchestrate elaborate murder/suicides and advance their company’s billion-dollar agenda. Despite difficulties at home, Vos takes on their next big contract – killing data mining mogul John Parse (Sean Bean) and his daughter Ava (Tuppence Middleton) under the guise of Ava’s boyfriend Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott). Unfortunately, glitches and a degrading time window make this takeover complicated – blurring the lines between host and possessor.

Bloody plugs squish into the scalp and Possessor immediately catches the audience with bittersweet tears and gunshots breaking the silent luxury. Medical awakenings lead to vomiting and severed links with the host, but there are no lingering side effects or anomalies – supposedly. Memory debriefings and artifacts from childhood help our assassin adjust before returning to the modest home and family, but the dinner conversation is a lie, detached just like the news reports of the preceding crime. The scientific chats, however, are cold but honest, for one can’t really bring these experiences home. Surveillance begins for the next project alongside practicing mannerisms, abducted subject prep, and scheduling details. Three days and no room for error add ticking clocks and technicalities to the personal amid the fantastic crimes and dual performances. After spending time in our assassin’s point of view, now Possessor has her inside the man who will unwittingly kill his lover for someone else’s corporate gain. Exterior spying and interior simulations layer the invasive intimacy as multiple sensations and minutia overstimulate our host – leading to fractures in the mind and body connections. Friends and lovers blur as hiding in a social situation is easier than facing the coupled dishonesty. The woman in a man’s body reversal acerbates the rough sex and suppressed consciousness as the slow burn suspense and initial hesitations culminate with kills both calculated and messy. Editing matches the close quarters blows while brutal scenes play out – taking their gory time without special effects exaggeration. Glitches make retrievals difficult as the violence and science go wrong and unforeseen problems like willpower blend our personalities together. We are with both characters at the same time, and in the need to survive question who is dominant. Possessor enters a mental surreal as the personas fight each other, one donning the distorted mask of the other as corrupted memories and homicidal guilt bleed together. The killings intrude on the home and family sacred with sad but disturbing predatory revelations, and the psychology, performances, and physicality merge as the cruel turnabouts come full circle.

Vos says she’s fine but we know she’s not, and Andrea Riseborough (The Devil’s Mistress) is pale and sickly, rehearsing being herself and pretending to be glad after a work trip. She wants to take time off and fix her marriage, but Vos is detached even during intimacy and the use of Tas at home but Vos at work shows her conflicted identity. It’s easier to be someone else than herself, but the complications are increasing and Vos chooses more violent weapons like knives and fireplace pokers over easier guns. She lies that there are no disruptions yet spies on her family as her subject, realizing the choice between work and home that’s holding her back. Unwitting host Christopher Abbott (First Man) as boyfriend cum killer Colin Tate is initially a sassy lover, but he makes mistakes, hesitates, and loses control as Vos emerges. Tate is weakening outside but fighting in their mind, forcing conflict as Possessor presents two people playing the same character. We feel for both in this fascinating twofer because they need each other to survive and end their torment but their relationship will never be mutual. Swanky, hobnobbing, corporate big wig Sean Bean (Sharpe), however, and his saucy daughter Tuppence Middleton (Dickensian) fight about her dating a nobody like Tate. Parse has elaborate parties but living it up is not enough and he’s taking his data mining tech to the next level. Both he and the seemingly devoted Ava treat Tate as the latest plaything, but they have no way of knowing Vos’ influence – leading to disturbing payback. Initially, handler Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight) seems to care, too, debriefing Vos and reclining beside her during the assassinations with tips and tech support. A former assassin herself, Girder wants Vos to eventually replace her, but she thinks her star performer would be better off if she didn’t have real-world attachments. Girder sends in a fixer to assure this critical contract is fulfilled – doing what she has to do to see the mission accomplished.

Exotic hotels provide a futuristic mood thanks to red lights and a reflective black sheen. Rather than excessive CGI sci-fi world-building or wasting time with future city skylines and rad technology, smart use of color and mod chairs in the otherwise sparse briefing room offer enough cool without contemporary omnipresent technology to eventually date Possessor’s timeless concepts. Calibrations and scientific dossiers let us know the dangerous perimeters while jack-ins, the melting away self, and flashes of the takeover invoke a seventies science fiction arty as one person molds into another. Possessor is shocking but pretty with blurs, distortions, dual echoes, and overlays showing the inside another person’s mind intimate. Practical effects and in-camera action create an audience tangible to the within dilemmas. Classic cars are both a sign of wealth and a visual throwback while vaping instead of smoking also feels niche and elite. Grandiose architecture, fresco ceilings, and marble staircases symbolically ascend while blunt gunfire, squishing stabs, and merging pools of blood pierce the senses. Lighting schemes and mirrors allow us to see multiple characters in one at the same time – an eerie but simple self-awareness amid invasive big brother televisions, cameras, and screens paralleling the who’s watching whom and who is really in control familiarity. Some enjoy the voyeurism, upping the sex and nudity when they know there’s spying while Possessor winks at the cinematic experience itself. Ironically, the censorship between the R and Unrated versions is more about erections than gore, adding intrigue elements regarding women predators versus macho men, ambiguous sexuality, and gender identity. The rental blu-ray also features deleted scenes with extra character details and lengthy behind-the-scenes conversations, but when I went to buy the elusive Possessor Uncut blu-ray, it was an “only one left” click, and my purchase was ultimately canceled. 😦

Possessor may be slow for viewers accustomed to science fiction action and high tech in your face cool a minute. The well-done gore is brutal yet this is not outright horror for those expecting formulaic scares. The chilling what if invasive is disturbing, and old school touches accent Possessor’s bizarre. This looks like one of dad David Cronenberg’s (Rabid) films, and that isn’t a bad thing. Fine performances carry the science fiction pains, and the personal intelligence and sophistication keep audiences thinking about the consequences long after Possessor ends.

Read more Frightening Flix Sci-Fi and Family Horrors:

Alien: Covenant

Technological Terrors

Dead Ringer

Snowy Scares

Book Review: The Jewish Book of Horror, ed. Josh Schlossberg

Synopsis: Horror is part of the human condition, but few peoples across the ages know it quite like the Jews.

From slavery to pogroms to the Holocaust to antisemitism, the “Chosen People” have not only endured hell on Earth, they’ve risen above it to share their stories with the world.

Whether it’s pirate rabbis or demon-slaying Bible queens, concentration camp vampires or beloved, fearless bubbies, THE JEWISH BOOK OF HORROR offers you twenty-two dark tales about the culture, history, and folklore of the Jewish people.

Review: The Jewish Book of Horror, ed. Josh Schlossberg (pub. Denver Horror Collective) is a dark, informative and entertaining read. I was drawn to this book because I was wondering how can a people, who have endured so much during the history of the human race, create fictional horror and I also wanted to know what was different about ‘Jewish’ horror compared to standard offerings.

The answer is to be found in the rich religious traditions and folk culture associated with the Jewish people, an aspect given a greater voice in the introduction by Rabbi John Carrier. Story settings varied from biblical to present-day to post-apocalyptic. Demons abounded, and I encountered the dybbuk properly. Social mores and expectations were also touched on, whether to be battled against or to attempt to maintain. Some were quiet horror, others less so, nor was the tragedy of the concentration camp shied away from. Religion and the question of faith was central to many.

It’s hard to highlight favourites when there isn’t a bad story amongst them, but a few standouts for me were ‘How to Build a Sukkah at the End of the World’ by Lindsay King-Miller, ‘The Horse Leech has Two Maws’ by Michael Picco and ‘Ba’alat Ov’ by Brenda Toliari.

Jewish horror as a subgenre is unique, it carries the weight of one of the oldest traditions in the world. This is horror from a different perspective and all the more refreshing for it.

5/5 stars

Historian of Horror : They’re Creepy and They’re Kookie, Mysterious and Spooky…

You can already hear it, can’t you? You see the title above and your brain automatically connects to the theme song Vic Mizzy composed fifty-seven years ago, the one bouncing around in your head right now, complete with finger-snaps. The one that has been used, with a few variations, for nearly every iteration of the characters for whom it was created in 1964. Doodle-di-doot-snap-snap!

“Why?”, you ask. 

“For what reason was the catchiest television theme song ever written by the hand of mortal man created?”, you wonder. 

“Where did these altogether ooky people come from?”, your enquiring minds want to know.

Well, get a witch’s shawl on and find a roost that you can crawl on. I’m about to tell you everything there is to know about The Addams Family. 

Snap-snap.

During the recently completed podcast season, I used one of my entries to elucidate upon the difference between pulp magazines and slick magazines. Pulps, you might recall, were cheaply produced efforts filled with lurid, sensationalist popular scrivenings by now virtually forgotten authors, at least outside of our particular area of interest. Great stuff, very often, but nobody ever got rich writing for the pulps. The slick magazines, on the other hand, were printed on fancy, coated paper with great stories for which the authors were paid well enough that some of them did live quite comfortably on the remuneration they received for those pieces of much more impressive literature.

The pulps tended to be genre-specific. The ones we might have been most drawn to had titles like Weird Tales, Unknown Worlds, Dime Mystery, Horror Stories. The slicks published all genres, as long as the quality of writing was high enough. Their roster included The Saturday Evening Post, Liberty, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harper’s, Collier’s Weekly. The ultimate goal of pulp writers was to sell to the slicks. Ray Bradbury made that transition. Few others from our favorite genre did.

Along with fiction, and non-fiction, many of the slicks featured single-panel cartoons. The New Yorker, in particular, is still highly regarded for them. Some years ago, a coffee-table collection of the best cartoons from its long history sold very well. Prominent among the artists who created that treasure trove was one Charles Addams.

Born on January 7, 1912, in Westfield, New Jersey, Charles Samuel Addams was a bright, quirky, mischievous child who grew up to be a bright, quirky, mischievous adult. After attending the Grand Central School of Art in New York City, he got a job retouching crime scene photos for True Detective Magazine in 1933, excising the blood and gore that were frowned upon in the periodicals of the day. He had already placed some cartoons in The New Yorker beginning by then and was soon a regular contributor. The August 6, 1938 issue began featuring the characters we’ve all come to know and love, the degenerate, demonic darlings of the Addams Family.

None of them had names yet, and for a while, there was only a painfully thin woman with dark hair who looked vaguely like the Morticia-yet-to-come and a hulking, bearded butler. By the November 25, 1939 issue, the butler had shaved and looked very much like the Lurch we would come to know and love. The first cartoon showing a recognizable Morticia cuddling with a recognizable Gomez appeared in the issue dated November 14, 1942. The caption read, “Are you unhappy, Darling?” to which the future Morticia replied, “Oh, yes, yes! Completely!”

And so it went for over twenty years. Children were added, a boy and a girl who enjoyed playing with chemistry sets, building model guillotines, and collecting warning signs. A round-headed creeping relative dressed in a black ulster began skulking around the family’s crumbling Victorian manse and frequenting horror films at the local cinema. The cast was gradually assembled. 

Addams was drafted in 1943 and wound up in the Signal Corps. Given that he was a large, physically impressive man and reportedly an excellent shot, one is tempted to wonder whether or not the Germans might have wisely contrived by surreptitious means to arrange for him to not be assigned to a combat unit. Not long after induction, he married his first wife, Barbara Jean Day, who has been said to have resembled Morticia. As did his other two wives. Charlie seems to have had a type.

What Charlie lacked was any desire for parenthood. He loved children, as long as they belonged to someone else. After eight years of trying to convince her husband to adopt, given that they had been unable to conceive, she left him. 

A few years later, another Barbara came along who not only resembled Morticia more closely than her predecessor had in looks but also in personality. She was physically abusive and unfaithful. In 1955, without his knowledge or consent, she made a one-year deal with the McClure Syndicate to have Charlie’s cartoons appear in Sunday newspapers. The contract she signed on his behalf gave her 50% of the proceeds. Under the title Out of This World, they appear to be redrawn versions, or perhaps early drafts, of cartoons that had already appeared in The New Yorker. By the time that one-year deal was up, “the bad Barbara” had been jettisoned and Charlie was once again on the prowl for another Morticia surrogate.

He found one in my hometown, Nashville, Tennessee. Tee Davie was married and pregnant. As she slowly segued from her marriage to Buddy Davie to being Charlie’s frequent companion, Charlie’s aversion to children reappeared. She was stunning, and he liked stunning women, but the notion of being a parent put the kibosh on what had promised to be a permanent attachment. Tee and Buddy gave their marriage another try while Charlie made the rounds of more eligible females, including actresses Greta Garbo and Joan Fontaine, as well as presidential widow Jacqueline Onassis. 

He and Tee did eventually reconnect. They were wed in a pet cemetery in 1980, and were still married when he passed away from a heart attack on September 29, 1988.

The one constant in his life throughout was the work. His cartoons became an institution, and sales of The New Yorker were bound to have been boosted by his presence in nearly every issue. Random House put out the first hardback collection of them, Drawn and Quartered, in 1942, complete with an introduction by Boris Karloff. Simon & Schuster took over production in 1947 with Addams and Evil, followed by Monster Rally (1950), Homebodies (1954), Nightcrawlers (1957), Black Maria (1960), The Groaning Board (1964), My Crowd (1970), Favorite Haunts (1976) and Creature Comforts (1981), as well as The Chas Addams Mother Goose (1967).

In 1963, during the time when plans were underway to adapt the cartoons to the small screen, toy-maker Aboriginals, Ltd. came out with a set of large cloth dolls based on the Addams characters. They named the girl Wednesday. Addams wanted to call the boy Pubert, but that name would have to wait a few decades. He settled on Pugsley, which he found on a map of the Bronx as the name of a stream. Charlie appeared in publicity photos for the company, including one taken in his New York apartment with his crossbows, raven statue, and suit of armor prominently displayed around him, cradling Wednesday in his arms and menaced by Pugsley lurking above and behind him on the back of his chair. 

Charlie concocted the name of his feminine ideal during the development of the television show while looking up morticians in a phone book. Her doll stood four feet tall and cost $19.95. It’s a little more expensive now. Charlie wavered between calling the pater familias either Repelli or Gomez. He asked John Astin, the actor who would soon be playing the role, to choose. Astin went with Gomez. Lurch and Fester suggested themselves as names appropriate for the characters, as did Grandmama Frump. And so was born the first adaptation of Charlie’s cast of reprobates into another medium. But not the last, and every subsequent live-action or animated version is but a shadowy reflection in a warped mirror of that short-lived television series.

Which we will examine in more detail in the next installment, a mere fortnight in the future.

Until then, patrons of perfidiousness…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

THE BIGFOOT FILES/Chapter Thirty-Seven: Something in the Woods

Something in the Woods is an old-school creature feature that ramps up the woodsy horror and delivers a satisfying climax to The Beast of Fallow Pines trilogy. While the first two books in the series featured solemn adults dealing with their grief alone, Something in the Woods lets loose with young adults drinking beer, smoking pot, and having sex.

If you haven’t read the first two books in the series, here are my reviews of Book 1 (The Darkness in the Pines) and Book 2 (The Beast of Fallow Pines). Click on the book titles for the links.

Written by Harlan Graves, Something in the Woods instills the vibe of a Friday the 13th film as four campers battle for their lives against a force of nature hellbent on horrific violence.

The story opens with two couples, Will and Laney and Bryce and Brittany, pumping gas at one of those rundown stations you see in most hillbilly cannibal movies. They encounter a strange, old man (wearing ragged flannel and patched jeans, of course) who warns the group to stay away from Fallow Pines.

“There’s something in the woods,” he says. “Sometimes hikers go up into those pines and never come back down again.”

Naturally, the campers go up into those pines, and we’ll get to see if any of them ever come back down again. Why are dire warnings from old-timers always ignored by young adults in horror fiction? Nobody likes a party pooper, I guess.

By page 6 of the 35-page story, the author Graves rewards readers of the first two books with a familiar sight that leads to more clues and eventually another intense battle with the Beast of Fallow Pines. As I stated in my previous review, Graves masterfully writes riveting fight scenes between humans and the Beast, which is the strength of all three tales.

Like Book 2, Something in the Woods finishes on an ominous note. The final sentence blends doom with a shred of hope, signaling the end of a trilogy worth reading for fans of cryptid horror.

NEXT UP: Chapter Thirty-Eight: Letters from the Big Man. I review the 2011 film directed by Christopher Munch.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Seventh Day

The Seventh Day is an Exercise in What Not to Do.

Young priest Daniel Garcia (Vadhir Derbez) is recruited by the Archbishop (Stephen Lang) to join unconventional Father Peter Costello (Guy Pearce) in exorcising a possessed boy in the 2021 Training Day meets The Exorcist horror tale The Seventh Day. Father Peter has his own rocky past learning the ropes from Father Louis (Keith David), but writer and director Justin P. Lange’s (The Dark) film doesn’t take its own advice – suffering from thin storytelling and not so shocking giveaways.

1995 prayers, recitations, and Pope John Paul II footage open The Seventh Day as the crucifix is ineffective against rattling beds, child possessions, evil temptations, and terrible consequences. Though off to a disturbing start, wise horror viewers know where we’re going from here. Demonic possession reports are on the rise across the country, and while the Vatican is generally against controversial exorcisms, a few dedicated rogue priests have vanquished in private. The Seventh Day does a lot of telling rather than showing – treating this intriguing history as throwaway exposition for our rookie’s one-day exorcism test. Evil is said to be clever, unpredictable, hiding in unexpected places, and ready to multiply, but the begrudging teamwork, contrived field exercises, and devilish ruses lead to ridiculously easy encounters. Characters don’t mention a critical plot element about a boy murdering his family until they drive up to the crime scene, waxing instead on who’s up to the task or cowering like a regular Sunday sermon priest. Our young Father can see flashbacks inside the killer house, but are these taunting visions, a conveniently intuitive recruit, ghosts, or just movie-making magic? Though admittedly freaky, the apparitions noticing the priest watching them cut off their clues, delaying what viewers can already deduce. They need proof of possession in this murder case for an official exorcism blessing, but the Archbishop already said this is unofficial and a little boy pinning down our young priest and talking creepy while our scared recruit shouts for help isn’t that much evidence anyway. We know the movie-making rites of exorcism and this is supposed to be Be Gone Training 101, however, the rules herein aren’t clear – demon names are given freely, supernatural doorways open or close, and a Ouija board comes in handy. Although filming scenes out of order is expected, many sequences play as if they have no idea what was said in the scenes prior thanks to contradicting plot progressions, repeated character flip-flopping, and everything thrown at the screen in world logic be damned. The Seventh Day detours with typical dark haunted house explorations, flashlights, and boo shocks under the bed. Flickering lights, spooky reflections, loud music, and killer montage visuals are for the viewer, not the character’s experience, and weak, fiery flashes poorly frame the child trauma, eerie tapping, and possessed levitation. Priests inexplicably intrude on the police interrogations and psychological evaluations as gun-toting cops are sent to handle the evil – because that’s going to turn out so well! Buzzing alarms, growling effects, zombie police, and strobe corridors problematic for sensitive viewers add to the supernatural extraneous as The Seventh Day finally dons the sacraments only to drop the actual exorcism for whooshing across the floor, jump scares, and bathtub ghosts. Yet more cinematic contrivances in the last twenty minutes hand the characters the hello Agatha the audience has known from the beginning, and there’s no devil lying to divide and conquer reverse twist on the twist or any deeper complex catharsis.

Despite a fast-tracked academy record hailing him as their finest, Vadhir Derbez (How to Be a Latin Lover) as Father Daniel Garcia is admittedly anxious about his new position and immediately admonished by Father Peter. If he can’t handle a day in the field seeking evil, how does Daniel expect to fight demons? Daniel can’t answer why he wants to be an exorcist, yet he contests every exercise rather than being open to any tips and experience possible just because the plot says our priests must be opposites. Wouldn’t you want to be on the same page against evil? Daniel can’t spot the devils in disguise, worries about trespassing at a crime scene, and can’t talk casually to people like even a regular priest should. He continually fails to see the bigger picture but changes his tune as The Seventh Day says, ready to do whatever Peter wants after a few scary words from a possessed child. Maybe viewers are meant to feel the disjointed jumping around as an in over his head whirlwind, but it’s terribly frustrating when we pick up critical things Daniel does not. Rather than any kind of self-awareness, his sullen approach and repeated mistakes become inadvertently humorous. There’s no character growth, realizations, or recognition because Daniel doesn’t suspect anything until the plot says he should. He falls for evil tricks and has the big twist pointed out to him in a montage, reciting helpful platitudes instead of the prayers and exorcism rites he’s supposed to know so well. When faced directly with demons and a house of horrors, the audience finds it tough to believe Daniel can handle any attack, much less knows what to do with evil once it’s released. The Seventh Day’s focus on his rookie point of view is quite simply the wrong one, and the finale setting up some kind of sequel for him as a badass hunter-killer priest out to save the possessed is unfortunately laughable.

Unorthodox Father Peter Costello is dismissive of these wet behind the ears priests and sends Daniel to get him coffee. He sings to the car radio, smokes, curses, and wears a funky patterned jacket rather than a clerical collar. Guy Pearce has a lot of exorcism exposition and Peter’s edgy fast talking accent doesn’t really give us much besides making him more harsh versus Daniel’s timid. However, he’s upfront about his past exorcism failures and grizzled attitude. For Peter, it’s about settling the score not the greater good, and he flings the possessed around – a commanding exorcist getting serious with the rites. Audiences know not to underestimate Guy Pearce’s kick-ass and The Seventh Day lacks whenever he’s off-screen. Unfortunately, Peter’s teaching methods are also total crap. He drives them all around town but sends Daniel in to chat with a demon alone while he reads a comic book in the waiting room. If this is such a serious case with a child at risk, why is Peter letting Daniel willy nilly learn on the fly? Such contrived actions break the viewer immersion, for it’s easy to tune out when we know there is a built-in answer in the script. Peter’s training exercises are easy and random. Audiences wonder why he isn’t just doing the dang exorcism. We have every reason to suspect why while the film ignores the inevitable, yet somehow Pearce almost makes The Seventh Day bemusing. He remains chill in the face of the preposterous, leaving sardonic clues even as Peter’s pushing Daniel so hard one moment only to act concerned for him in the next scene. Although Pearce has had a string of missteps in our rueful 2020s, coughDisturbingThePeacecough, I don’t mind his recent streak of making genre schlock. Guy Pearce has turned in enough excellent performances in quintessential, groundbreaking films, and I’m still going to watch everything he does, obvious cloak and disappointing dagger or not. Fortunately, there’s still a certain deliciousness when as always, Guy Pearce gives us what we want – if all too briefly when The Seventh Day should have been about Peter’s self-reflection and the burdens he carries. I’d eat that shit up if this had been a weekly silver fox, Father Peter, battling demons I can’t lie.

Poor Archbishop Stephen Lang (Avatar) doesn’t even get a name, and although he says the decisions aren’t up to him…he’s the one making the decisions? He also says he has hope in these desperate times but wonders if their new recruits can handle the increasing possessions before chastising Peter and Daniel for putting themselves in danger – when the Archbishop knows of Peter’s risky methods. Such precious few contradictory scenes give no indication on whether he knows what’s really afoot, and Keith David’s (Gamer) Father Louis is also unfortunately brief despite his great delivery and presence. In fact, the Archbishop spends more time telling us what a faithful and courageous man Father Louis was, and if both were going to be so underutilized, they could have been combined into one character. Even after the 1995 opening, The Seventh Day still feels older thanks to boob tube televisions and big old cars. Smog, dirty concrete, retro jailhouses, dark roller rinks, and empty corridors make for a downtrodden, anonymous cityscape, however, once we have a few opening aerial shots, we don’t need padding overhead views for every scene transition. Voiceover wisdoms on the evil preparations acting like this is some kind of demon heist get old fast when we could have seen characters speaking. However it is amusing to hear not so angelic kids with F-bombs and foul mouths to match the distorted smiles, demonic voices, creepy tongues, eating glass, and dislocating jaws. Ominous echoes and rotten fruits accent burning flesh, cemeteries, and haunted houses, but the out-of-place vignettes try to up the scary ante with unnecessary, typical horror shocks. The Seventh Day’s style is very generic with little pizzazz and arms-length shooting more interested in moving on to the next scene – via an overhead shot of driving across a bridge – rather than focusing on the characters at hand. One might think names like Daniel i.e. the lion’s den and Peter like the apostle cum first pope crucified upside down mean something, but The Seventh Day is surprisingly lacking in its ecclesiastics with no Legion Mark Chapter Five reference amid the demon army talk nor even a swine joke.

IMDb says The Seventh Day was written in ten days, and it shows. Rather than focusing on the scars of its elder priests, The Seventh Day deflates itself with a weak rookie element. Viewers are supposed to ignore any unreliable ambiguity until the film tells us we’re supposed to be shocked, but long time horror audiences won’t be surprised. While the premise is intriguing on paper, billing oneself as Training Day meets The Exorcist makes for a thin elevator pitch, and it’s easy to suspect the twist in The Seventh Day when the trailers all but confirm it. Oops.

 

Read more Frightening Flix Religious and Creepy Kid Horrors:

Religious and Folk Horrors

Evil and Creepy Kids

Krampus

Apparitions

Book Review: This Morbid Life by Loren Rhoads

 

Reviewed by B. Nguyen-Calkins

Essays get a bad reputation within my friend group. Essays are wordy, boring, long. Twelve years plus may also put a damper on essays. However, Loren Rhoads’ This Morbid Life is such a fun collection of essays, I will be recommending it to my friends who may not be convinced of the genre’s beauty.

Each piece of the collection is effortless to read. It’s also convenient to read one or two pieces a night. There wasn’t a piece that didn’t make me think, at least for a moment, about life. It’s difficult to declare a singular theme for the collection. Rhoads declared the book as a love letter to all those who accompanied her life. While trying to generalize the book in its entirety, I can think of nothing more than what Rhoads writes- it’s a love letter to life and its people. Rhoads writes with a sincere voice, while still managing to befriend the reader without hesitation. As I read some pieces it almost sounded like I could hear it being told to me. The prose is natural and invigorating.

Though the collection is about life and its morbid irony, each piece has a unique outlook to offer you. I especially favored some over others, but with a work that comes across as personal as This Morbid Life, it’s difficult to say one is better than another. I’d recommend reading the collection from start to finish rather than jumping around. The specific order of the stories is purposeful. You may find yourself going back to reread an essay, a paragraph, or a line. But holistically, each piece builds or contrasts from the previous. 

A great collection or anthology intertwines stories seamlessly. I couldn’t stop reading after finishing one chapter. While I do have favorites, I can’t separate them from the collection. They worked together building a process of thinking for myself. I have a digital copy; however, I would love this in print. As I’ve said, it would be a great collection to read a bit each night. For This Morbid Life, I’ll settle and charge my Kindle.

Kbatz Krafts: Another Halloween Dress!

 

Yes, it’s November, Thanksgiving, Christmas! 🎃🦃🎄 However after my Halloween Mystery Project turned out to be such a delicious costume, I decided to repeat the process and make a more streamlined seasonal dress. Using leftover black materials from my stash and a thrifted $4 Halloween panel, materials that were once curtains and slipcovers can become an ensemble with sophistication and whimsy! Despite a few late hiccups, adjustments, and design changes on the fly – I won’t call them mistakes! – this unique ensemble came together quickly, is basically free, and feels good!

 

 

For more in progress project photos, visit Kbatz Krafts on Instagram or Facebook

 

Revisit More Kbatz Krafts:

Halloween Mystery Sewing

Halloween Scene Setters Every Day

Memento Mori Sewing

Carving and Baking with Real Pumpkin

 

 

 

Legend of Horror : George A. Romero: Hail To The Zombie King by CM Lucas

 Hail To The Zombie King

Growing up in New York in the early 40s was no small feat. The realities of organized crime and World War Two were enough to shape the mindset of an aspiring filmmaker from the Bronx to that of a doomed future for humanity. George A. Romero’s bleak worldview became glaringly apparent on October 1, 1968, when he let loose upon the world, Night of the Living Dead, a terrifying story of the reanimated dead attacking and consuming a group of survivors hiding within a small farmhouse. 

On the surface, Romero’s vision of a world plagued by the flesh-eating living dead is simply a visceral creature feature (nothing wrong with that). But, the subtextual coverage of social issues and identity politics is where it truly terrifies. Using a zombie apocalypse allegorically to showcase the true plague that continues to ravage humanity. Intolerance, tribalism, and humanity’s inhumanity toward man are all subjects broached within the horror masterpiece. 

Within Romero’s storied career, he has often attempted to infuse his films with social awareness. Not satisfied with simply scaring an audience with supernatural spectacle, Romero forces his audience to peer into the societal underbelly and reflect on humanity’s current, past, and future atrocities with only the slightest shimmer of hope. Much more terrifying than zombie-infested streets is when human beings are subjected to the realization that the true enemy is glaring back at them every time we look into a mirror.

However, there’s more to this dread-filled visionary than doom and gloom nihilism. Romero’s cheeky, whimsical side is often on display within his films. Whether it’s a zombie experiencing an unfortunate “haircut” from the blades of a helicopter in Dawn of the Dead, or the lovable “Bub” giving a final salute to the deplorable Captain Rhodes before his gruesome death. 

With the recent release of Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead, the living dead are more prominent than ever. And while George Romero may have passed, but his legacy continues to live on in the form of the modern zombie. Paving the way for such properties as The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later and even Shaun of the Dead, Romero fought the battle of the indie filmmaker and won the hearts of millions of devoted fans who watched in awe as his decaying, putrid creations ravaged the world of cinema.

Free Fiction: Bliss by Webster Grubbs

A man walks silently down an abandoned dusty road. Along the path are vast oceans of waving grass. He paces slowly in silence, focusing on the road in the distance, watching it curve over the horizon. The sun above him crossed over and soon set, drenching the man in blinding shadows. He continues, wading through the drowning darkness. A shimmer of light dances across the field, cast by the full rising moon. 

Over the horizon comes a pair of bright lights, undoubtedly headlights of an approaching vehicle. The man walks on, taking note of the lights as they approached. Soon it was within sight and he stepped to the side of the road, stopping and watching. Upon seeing him, the dusty truck pulls to the side of the road. A lone man exits the vehicle, approaching the stranger slowly.

“Hey, you alright? It’s awful late to be wandering around the back roads.” He says, receiving no response. 

“You deaf or somethin’? It’s dangerous out here. You wouldn’t be the first to get lost out here.” Again, he receives no answer. He approaches the stranger, looking at his face.

“Or maybe you know that. Have I seen you before?”

The stranger turns back to the road and resumes walking. He speaks finally as he leaves. “Maybe so. Been around here for a while; Lotta people seen me here or there.” 

A sheet of rain settles over a small town, filling the air with sounds of water on rusting sheet metal roofs. A hooded man follows the road into the street. He finds his way into the local pub, taking refuge from the rain at a small back table. The locals take note of his presence but ignore him. The few visitors look over their shoulders, curious of the man. No one in the room speaks to him, and they only speak of him in hushed whispers between fleeting glances. 

The man sits, silent and unblinking, staring at the wooden corner wall. He remains deathly still as he waits. An elderly lady gathers her meal and slowly makes her way to the man’s table. She sits across from him and smiles warmly.

“Hope you don’t mind me takin’ a spot here with ya. You seemed kind of lonely. I know people don’t typically prefer to be alone. Tell me, how are ya doin’ ?” She asked, looking up to the man’s young, bearded face. 

He remained silent but did glance at her as she sat.

“Not much of a talker? That’s fine. Some people go on blabbering for too long anyways. Get themselves into all sorts of trouble. Sometimes you just gotta know when to hush up.”

The man nodded slowly, looking back up to the corner of the room. 

“I guess you’re waiting on the rain to stop, yeah? I’ll let you be then.” The lady said, turning to stand.

The man shook his head, looking back to her. “Before you go…would you like to hear an old song? It’s from my childhood, and I quite like it.” He spoke in a half-whisper.

The woman turned back to him and listened as he began softly humming an ancient tune. The old woman found herself enchanted by the song, getting enveloped by the notes of the man’s humming. Moments later the siren’s call was over, and the lady snapped from her trance. 

“Oh, that was pretty.” She exclaimed, looking across to the man. Across from her, however, was an empty seat. Shocked, she looked across the bar, finding it desolate. She looked out the door and saw but a muddy road leading to the building surrounded by carpets of shining broken glass. 

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

I’m a small-time horror author, writing when I have free time from a busy life.

Story Review: The Crate by Stephen King

Review by B. Nguyen-Calkins

In the depths of horror literature, Stephen King rises near the level of a modern legend. His works such as Carrie (1974), The Shining (1977), and It (1986) are some of his many works of intense horror and suspense. Yet King shines even in the shortest of stories that may fail to popularize beyond his novels. 

Ever been out in the woods and find something that’s obviously old? Maybe a doll or a magazine, or maybe a box with a locked lid. Immediately, curiosity drove you to open it… surely, whatever inside is worth a look. 

   The curious horror fanatics might be immediately overcome with a sense of dread. The Crate (1982) displays macabre scenes of straight unknown brutality which may justify that sense of dread. What starts with dramatic irony, readers are told of a professor’s experience with an old, unknown crate tucked beneath a staircase. The professor is afraid. He can hardly think, and only a couple glasses of whiskey can help cool his nerves. He explains to his friend of his run-in with the crate, tucked away beneath the basement staircase of the zoology department’s laboratory. “It’s a real crate,” said the janitor who found it. One built with traditional carpentry technique, far dating any living person.  

After reading this story, you may think twice about opening any cob-web-covered boxes. 

The Crate displays merciless scenes of straight unknown brutality. It creates terror for innocent students just trying to grind through their master’s programs, their “long sounds of terror and pain” cut off by something awful. Unsuspecting students and staff (and perhaps more) encounter the crate, only for their fates to be tucked away neatly in a box covered by foreshadowed death. The story is filled with scenes of blood and pain, with descriptions of body horror so vivid you may even hear a broken jaw snap closed behind you. 

And it all comes from one old, nailed-up crate, just waiting to be opened. 

Don’t be discouraged if you think this story has little substance. While describing his experience with the crate, the professor is motivated through chess-like strategies. Read the story again and try to decipher just who his pieces are.  

Who’s to say you won’t be the next person to stumble upon the crate, nailed shut and abandoned in the middle of nowhere. Maybe when you’ve purchased a new home and searched its attic, you’ll find a crate just like it. Will you open it? 

Historian of Horror : Everything’s Just Ducky

I mentioned in my last column that my wife and I traveled down to Key West during our October vacation, where we dropped around to see Ernest Hemingway’s residence. Amongst his remaining effects are the descendants of his famous six-toed cats, currently over fifty of them. They are calm and nonchalant creatures, utterly unimpressed by the hordes of tourists who daily descend upon their abode. They allow themselves to be petted, briefly, after which they do what all cats do. Ignore humans, bask in the warm sunlight, sleep in their preferred spaces, cough up hairballs, whatever. We witnessed all of these activities. If you, like myself, enjoy the company of felis catus, it’s a pleasant experience, apart from the hairballs. If you’re not an ailurophile, maybe F. Scott Fitzgerald has an old house somewhere you could visit instead.

All of which reminded me of a specific case of polydactyly that had a profound effect on my own life and my development as a fan of the fantastic and the frightening. Plus a slightly later instance that was utterly silly but wholly in keeping with a completely different popular genre of the time.

More on that one later. First, we must needs take a look into… The Outer Limits.

I’ve written before in this space that the late 1950s and early to mid-1960s was a golden age of nostalgia for the horrors of times gone by, with new manifestations of frightfulness appearing constantly in all of the then-available media. Television, being by 1958 the dominant common disseminator of culture in the developed world, was filled during the next few years with a variety of spooky and scary, and sometimes amusing, supernatural fare. The Twilight Zone was and remains the best known and most revered, but there was also One Step Beyond, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, 13 Demon Street, Way Out, and The Kraft Suspense Theatre, and that was all just on my side of the Big Pond. Even legendary spukmeister Boris Karloff had his own outlet for televised frights, Thriller, and a second that had to wait for home video to finally be shown, The Veil. By 1963, American audiences were only a season or two away from The Munsters and The Addams Family and The Smothers Brother Show (AKA My Brother, the Angel) and Dark Shadows and Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie and My Living Doll starring the stupefyingly lovely pre-Catwoman Julie Newmar, and all manner of delightfully outré goodies oozing into our homes via the cathode tube. And My Mother, the Car, which was outré, but not particularly delightful. Still.

Have I mentioned what a terrific time that was to be a kid? Well, it was. 

And among all that creepy and kooky and altogether ooky wonderfulness, for a single full season and one half of a second, a mere forty-nine episodes, the Control Voice coming over the airwaves from the ABC Television Network brought us “the awe and mystery that reaches from the inner mind to… The Outer Limits.”

Maybe it was more science fiction reliant than most of the other shows, but there was in each episode what the series’ creator, Leslie Stevens, called a ‘bear’ – some creature from outer or inner space, however one wants to define either of those ideas, that posed a challenge to the human beings with whom it interacted. That was grotesque, that was frightening. That was, in essence, a monster.

Sometimes, though, it was the humans who were the monsters.

On the night of October 14, 1963, for reasons that I to this day cannot fathom, my parents allowed five-year-old me to watch the fifth episode of The Outer Limits, one I still find gives me that same frisson I enjoyed the first time I saw it. Of course, my five-year-old self didn’t quite grasp all the nuances, resulting in a barrage of questions to my long-suffering father. Which is probably why I was not allowed to watch any additional episodes until years later when the show was in syndication. 

That broadcast, by the way, is the earliest specific episode of any television program I recall seeing in its first run. In case anyone was wondering.

The story concerns a young Welsh coal miner recruited by a mad scientist to be the subject in an experiment in accelerated evolution. In the process, he grows a big bald head and a sixth finger on each hand.

There’s that polydactyly I promised above.

The title of this particular episode was, in fact, “The Sixth Finger”, and it starred Edward Mulhare as the mad scientist. Mulhare would, in a few years, be cast as one of the title characters in a sitcom based on the 1947 feature film, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. He did not play Mrs. Muir.

The recipient of that extra digit was played by a young Sottish actor and jazz pianist named David McCallum. Of whom you might have heard, if you are a fan of the military police procedural program, NCIS. He has been Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard for over eighteen years on that show. Hence, the title of this offering.

Anyhow. Our hyper-evolved collier proves to be a dangerously arrogant douchebag in his polydactylic state, so the mad scientist contrives to sucker him back into the booth for another treatment, but instead reverses the polarities and briefly winds up with a Neanderthal before restoring our hero to his normal evolutionary state. 

On May 4, 1964, McCallum returned for the thirty-second episode of that first season, “The Form of Things Unknown”, which was also shown as a television movie under the title, The Unknown. It was intended to be the pilot for a spin-off series that didn’t sell. Probably just as well, given that its failure enabled McCallum to spend the next several years as the taciturn but amiable Russian secret agent Ilya Kuryakin in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968), in addition to a cameo in one episode of the sitcom Please Don’t Eat the Daisies and a one-shot revival TV movie in 1983 most notable for the brief second appearance of George Lazenby as everyone’s favorite MI6 agent. Plus a mention in the thirteenth episode of the second season of NCIS. When the lead character, Gibbs, is asked what Ducky looked like as a young man, he responds, “Ilya Kuryakin”.

Ya think?

McCallum spent the next decade-plus appearing in a myriad of television shows and movies, few of them of much note apart from a single episode of Night Gallery, a mad scientist not named Frankenstein in the mini-series Frankenstein: The True Story, one season as an invisible man, and four as the co-star of the British television series, Sapphire and Steel, alongside Joanna Lumley in between her turns as The New Avengers’ Purdey and Absolutely Fabolous’s Patsy. She was Sapphire, McCallum was Steel. Apparently, no one at the BBC could think of a last name for her characters. He and she guarded our world against extra-dimensional and supernatural threats. Quite a lot of fun. 

McCallum’s genre-related appearances slowed to a crawl in the 1980s and 1990s, ending in a role in one episode of the revival of The Outer Limits in 1997. Since then, he’s spent his thespian skills dissecting corpses and reassembling meat puzzles on behalf of the United States Navy. Still kinda creepy, n’est pas

Anyhow, I’ve provided a list below of McCallum’s horrific and macabre appearances, as well as the other performances mentioned herein. I hope the links all work, and that the populace is able to take a gander at some of his work on behalf of our genre. 

Oh, and that other instance of polydactyly? In 1965, in the wake of the spy craze initiated by the James Bond movies and perpetuated by not only the aforementioned Man (and later, Girl) from U.N.C.L.E, but also the often hilarious spoof sitcom, Get Smart, along with a myriad of others, the Topper toy company came out with a plastic super-secret spy gadget in the shape of a manual digit that you set into the crook of your hand between your thumb and forefinger. It shot darts from the tip, and was called The Sixfinger. “The Most Amazing Toy Ever”, according to the advertising. Everyone I knew had one, or wanted one. It’s amazing what’s important when you’re seven or eight, isn’t it? 

Anyhow.

No, I never had one.

Oh, well.

Until next time, then, thou treasure-seekers of terrors, and of tantalizing tacky trinkets…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

 

The Outer Limits, (“The Sixth Finger” Season 1, Episode 5 October 14, 1963)

The Unknown (1964)

The Outer Limits, (“The Form of Things Unknown” Season 1, Episode 32 May 4, 1964)

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968)

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (“Say UNCLE” Season 1, Episode 18 January 11, 1966)

Hauser’s Memory (1970)

Night Gallery (“The Phantom Farmhouse” Season 2, Episode 5 October 20, 1971)

She Waits (1972)

Screaming Skull (1973)

Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)

The Invisible Man (1975-1976)

Dogs (1976)

Sapphire and Steel (1979-1982)

The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen-Years-Later Affair (1983)

Fox Mystery Theater (“The Corvini Inheritance” Season 1, Episode 10 June 8, 1985)

Terminal Choice (1985)

Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“Murder Party”, Season 3, Episode 11 May 7, 1988)

Monsters (“The Feverman” Season 1, Episode e1 October 22, 1988) 

The Haunting of Morella (1990)

The Outer Limits, (“Feasibility Study” Season 3, Episode 17 July 11, 1997)

NCIS (2003-2021)

 

Free Fiction: Manny and the Machines by Marc Dickerson 

The father rapped his knuckles lightly on the door. 

     “Manny?” 

Waited a moment before turning the knob and stepping inside. 

Manny lay in bed, blanket pulled up to his chin, staring at the ceiling. The father could  see that he was shivering beneath the covers. 

     “It’s okay, son. It’s just me.” 

     “Dad. I can’t sleep.” 

The father nodded, moved to sit gently on the end of the bed. 

     “Why is that, son? Is something wrong?” 

     “Of course.”

     “Of course?” 

     “Yeah.” 

     “Son, I—” 

     “It’s the machines.” 

The father sat for a moment, looking first at the shadows on the curtains, then at the child. As softly as he could, he said,       “We’re not supposed to talk about them, son.” 

The son stirred a bit, looking uncomfortable. Quietly he uttered, “I know…” Then he lay still again. 

     “They keep us safe. You know that.”  

Manny sat up, loosening his grip on the blanket a bit. “But they’re so loud, dad. Why are  they so loud?” 

They had always been there. For most of his life, for all of his son’s life, their presence was a constant. Always felt. But always tolerated, never questioned. Though now he could hardly remember how it’d gotten this way, how life had become like this. 

This is the way it is, his own father had once told him when he was a boy. 

Since then, it had become second nature to block them out, to ignore them. He didn’t  even notice the sound anymore. 

But now, in the stillness of the bedroom, the father leaned forward, listened, tried to do this with his son’s ears, tried to remember being young and confused, afraid. Staring at the long creeping shadows on the curtains, listening. 

There it was. Faint at first, then fading up like some mysterious hand slowly turning a  dial. A continuous squeal, low and distant. Metallic, cold. Screeching and grinding. Horrible noises, he knew. He remembered. The spectral shriek of steel along the rails, slow and threatening, around the perimeter of the town. Motorized guards patrolling. Watching. Then the dial was adjusted again, the sound fading back into the stillness of the room. 

The father turned to his son. “Now, Manny…it’s only at night. We have the entire rest of the day. Remember what I told you last time?” 

     “I know. Pretend they’re trains.” 

     “That’s right. Trains help people. Just like them. They help us. Keep us safe.” “You always say that. Safe from what.”  

The father pressed the palms of his hands into his knees, gazing down at the floor.  Finally, he rose from the bed to look down at his son. Manny seemed so much older than even this morning. Yet he knew the boy still had much to understand, much to learn about the way things worked. 

     “I’ve forgotten, son. And that’s good. That’s a good thing. See. They make it so we never have to find that out. Which is       why we should be grateful. Why we don’t mind the noise. Talk  about the noise.”   

He looked over toward the window again. Stared at the curtains. The sound came back, echoing in his head. The grating of gears, the harsh mechanical wail echoing around the town.  Steel ghosts. Watching, circling. He pictured them, tried to picture them (it’d been so long since he acknowledged their existence, let alone dare gaze upon them). What he could remember was only a gray blur of machinery. The frightening deliberate speed of efficiency. And above it, a coughing cloud of steam rising into the night sky, obscuring everything, every star. Dark.  Endless, suffocating. He couldn’t even remember what the moon looked like. Had forgotten the moon. 

The father looked back at his son. Felt his composure, his sanity return. The rational  constitution of adulthood. He felt himself ease back into it. He was a parent. And Manny was a  good boy. Curious, like all boys.  

     “Have I answered all your questions?” 

      “I guess…” 

      “Good.” The father rustled the son’s hair. “That’s what I’m here for.” 

Manny stared up at him like he wanted to say something. Then it was gone, the look, the thought. Vanished, like most irrational young childhood thoughts. The father smiled. 

     “Goodnight.” 

He moved across the room, quietly closing the door behind him.  

The father got into bed. Heard his wife’s voice, raspy with sleep. 

     “Is Manny okay?”

The father smoothed out his pillow, settling under the covers. 

     “He’s okay. He’s going to do just fine.” 

In the dark, he could make out the faint image of the mother’s face smiling. “I don’t want him to be afraid,” she said. “He’s such a good boy. Just scared.” 

     “Like all kids.” 

     “Yes. But I worry sometimes. They don’t tolerate it well. Fear.” 

     “No,” the father said, reaching for the lamp on the nightstand. “No they don’t.” The father turned off the light. “But he is      a good boy. Manny is a good boy.” 

     “Yes. He’ll be okay.” The mother lay still for a moment before leaning in, kissing him on the cheek. Then she turned on her side, away from him. He turned away from her, facing the window. The curtains were drawn. Only shadows. 

Shadows and something else. 

The noise. He could hear it. Far off in the night. 

He shifted to lie on his back. Stared up at the ceiling and listened and did not close his eyes. 

Dark, covering everything. 

The father stayed up all night listening to the sound.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Marc Dickerson is a writer and filmmaker from Philadelphia, PA. He has written short stories, graphic novels, screenplays, and now his first novel, ART FARM. Marc also hosts a podcast about cult/b/underground films called Cult Movie Cult. His work has appeared online and in publications such as Culture Cult Magazine and Burial Day. He currently lives in Bucks County, PA with his wife and daughter.

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/21183349.Marc_Dickerson

THE BIGFOOT FILES/Chapter Thirty-Six: The Beast of Fallow Pines

The Beast of Fallow Pines is Book 2 in a cryptid trilogy written by Harlan Graves. The story follows a recently divorced man named David who relocates to his late father’s abandoned cabin in the remote wilderness to escape the painful memories of his past. His only companion is his dog, the Great Pyrenees named Argus.

David, by the way, is the son of the main character from Book 1, The Darkness in the Pines. You can read my review of The Darkness in the Pines HERE.

The Darkness in the Pines and The Beast of Fallow Pines not only share a bloodline, but they also share plots, styles, and tones. Both feature troubled men in the same isolated location stalked by a creature in the woods. Even the warning signs are similar – a decapitated deer instead of a bear, for example.

Before the inevitable encounter, David senses the dark presence of the Beast. Sounds wake him up in the middle of the night. He sees glowing eyes in the darkness. Basically, The Beast of Fallow Pines is the same creature-feature storyline as Book 1 but adds a dog to the mix.

As a fan of cryptid horror, I’m not looking for razzle-dazzle or originality. Just make the Sasquatch encounters interesting, which is what Graves is able to do, and I’m hooked.

The Beast of Fallow Pines gains steam when Argus disappears into the woods. When David returns from his unsuccessful dog search, he finds his cabin ransacked .. and you can guess who the culprit is.

Like his father before him, David must face the Beast in another well-orchestrated fight scene. The author Graves knows how to pack the action and suspense in a gritty man-versus-beast battle. Unfortunately, the book ends with a cliffhanger of sorts, which may leave some readers without a satisfying resolution.

However, there are three parts to a trilogy — not two, and I’m sure Graves will address any loose ends in his third book titled Something in the Woods.

NEXT UP: Chapter Thirty-Seven: Something in the Woods. I review Book 3 of The Beast of Fallow Pines trilogy.

Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor: Mute

 

 

 

Plotline: The chilling short explores the complication of middle-aged marriage and the mental distortion resulting from sins and confessions. MUTE delves into the territory of somber human behavior, making the story a fascinating psychological thriller.

Who would like it: Fans who love Stephen King, short stories, tight thrillers, and book to movie adaptations.

High Points: Its very close to the original story.

Complaints: N/A

Overall: Love it!

Stars: 5

Where I watched it: Private screener

 

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Master Imaginationist and Instagram photographer Crystal Connor is the Chief Imagineer working for the Department of Sleep Prevention’s Nightmare Division. A Washington State native she loves anything to do with monsters, bad guys (as in evil-geniuses & super-villains.  Not ‘those’ kind her mother warned her about), rogue scientific experiments, jewelry, sky-high high-heeled shoes & unreasonably priced handbags.

When she’s not terrorizing her fans and racking up frequent flyers miles by gallivanting all over the country attending fan conventions and writer’s conferences she reviews indie horror and science fiction films for both her personal blog and HorrorAddicts.net

She is also considering changing her professional title to dramatization specialist because it so much more theatrical than being a mere drama queen.

http://wordsmithcrystalconnor.com

http://www.facebook.com/notesfromtheauthor

Download your free copy of …And They All Lived Happily Ever After! from Podiobooks.com and see why the name Crystal Connor has become “A Trusted Name in Terror!” 

http://podiobooks.com/title/and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after

Free Fiction : Queen of the Flies by Timothy Purvis

TINY LITTLE LEGS flitted across her flesh. She brought her hand down hard. Her teeth gritted as she sat up and turned on the lamp beside her bed. Looking down, the corpse of a tiny gnat lay flattened against the fine blonde hairs covering her forearm. She grimaced.

Addy looked up at the ceiling.

“Son of a—!”

The veins in her head pulsed as she came to her feet and kept her eyes fixated on the swirly patterned white ceiling. A color that allowed her to clearly see the dozens of black dots merely sitting there, staring at her as if they owned the entire apartment.

“You little black bastards,” she growled. “Why won’t you die already?”

Addy looked at her phone. The time said 06:50. Saturday morning. And the job she’d thought she’d finished the night before, all of her efforts, had obviously gone unheeded by the pests. A grimace crossed her face as she entered her walk-in closet and grabbed a shirt. The grimace grew deeper as she shook all of the little gnats loose and threw it on over her shoulders. She put on a pair of jeans, shaking her legs, and buttoning them around her waist. Then headed towards her dresser to grab some socks.

All the while, tiny flies continued to fly around. Taunting her with their audacity to even exist.

You have no idea how much I despise you, little bastards, do you? I do all the dishes, clean all the counters, clean out all the sinks, take out the trash, douse the toilet, do all the laundry, check every, single place that is dank and moist, treat them with spray, and what do I get for it? An apartment full of you cocks! I’m done with it! Time for desperate measures!

She finished dressing, stood up off the side of her bed, and made her way down the hall of her apartment. Little tiny bodies surrounded her as she reached the end of the hall and flipped on the kitchen light. They were everywhere. Covering the walls, the ceiling, even the floor.

Her body shuddered. However, the flushing of her face and the heated hate building in her skull caused her grimace to turn into a snarl.

“Don’t go away, you little turds! I’ll be right back to finish the job!”

Addy turned away from the pulsating layer of insects and cut through her living room. They were there too, of course. Why wouldn’t they be? she figured. She grabbed her keys by the door and exited her apartment.

IT WAS AMAZING how many different varieties of insect repellents and poisons there were. Addy chose some general foggers that included every sort of insect that was likely to be hiding in her apartment. True, there were probably spiders there. And she liked spiders well enough. However, they were obviously not doing their jobs in eliminating the rest of her fly problem.

Let’s see how you manage after a little chemical warfare… She smiled at the thought and went up front to the checkout counters.

“Whoa, that’s a lot of foggers,” the clerk said.

“I have a lot of pests.”

He nodded with a smile, checked her out, and off she went back home. To deal with the menaces who’d taken over her residence. They were pests that needed to be expunged.

Permanently.

***

ADDY RETURNED HOME. She went to work setting up the foggers. Placing one in her bedroom, one in the spare bedroom, one in the bathroom, one in the kitchen, one in the utility room, and one in the living room. The flies seemed to have multiplied exponentially in the time she’d been away. Some were flying. Some were just sitting on the surface of whatever thing they’d found themselves upon. She knew she should cover up her appliances and computer. Her TVs and other sensitive equipment. However, she was exhausted and just wanted them gone. She went through, set all of the bombs off. Left the apartment.

***

SIX HOURS LATER, she returned. They were all dead.

“Finally. I can replace everything else, I’m just glad you’re gone. You little bastards.”

The tang of chemical chaos clung to the air as she went about cleaning up the bodies of the insects and fixing dinner. Remarkably, the TVs still worked and the computer was fine. Nothing a little cleaner couldn’t fix.

At half-past nine, she closed the curtains to the deck doors and prepared for bed. That was when the buzzing began.

Addy looked around, eyes wide, mouth agape.

“What… what’s going on?”

From every vent, every hole in the wall, every nook, cranny, and hold came hundreds of gnats. They swarmed her, covered her body.

“Get off me! Get off me!”

She swatted at them, rubbed her hands across her skin as they covered every each of her existence. They dug into her pores. Her hands slapped down roughly, her skin welting under her own attacks. The scream she gave off was piercing, even to her own ears. She felt them digging into her flesh. Crawling under her skin, an almost ticklish sensation as they made their way up and under her flesh.

“No! No! Noooo!”

Addy fell to the floor clawing at her own skin. Before long the world went black, her mind blank.

***

HOURS LATER, ADDY emerged from her skin that had become a sort of shell. Her mind was singularly focused: Mate. Keep the brood alive. Stop those who would seek her extermination. After all, hadn’t that been the task all along? Finding the right body to bring the brood back to life?

Yes, that was the purpose. That was the need.

She wiped one hairy leg across the myriad of eyes of her bulbous head. The brood was tiny in form, at first. But they grew. They grew and they extinguished the minds meaning to harm them.

After all, they were all pests, weren’t they? And they deserved to be expunged.

Permanently.

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Tim Purvis is a writer of many genres. From Science-fiction to romance to fantasy and horror there is nothing he won’t write. He has struggled to get his work noticed, published only once in a Turkish magazine thanks to a pen pal. Yet, he continues to write hoping one day his works will reach a broader audience and he can make a living doing what he loves: spinning the tall tale.

http://cosmicfantasies.com

Book Review : HELLSLEIGH by DC Brockwell


HELLSLEIGH AND THE HORRORS OF INSTITUTIONALIZATION

Review by Renata Pavrey

“They say if you listen carefully, you can still hear the screaming. Because once you enter Hellsleigh, it will never let you leave.”

A parapsychologist gets into a scuffle with a local tramp on the roof of a derelict hospital. They both fall down to their deaths, following which the police unearth more bodies from within the abandoned premises. Hellsleigh was formerly a mental asylum, infamous for its century-old history of two psychiatric nurses who went around killing patients. In later years the hospital was engulfed in a fire. And over time it earned its reputation of being haunted. What exactly is the story of Hellsleigh? Why do people associated with it die? And what was a paranormal investigator doing on the roof covered in blood? Hellsleigh is an interesting supernatural thriller that takes the reader on a ride through the history of its namesake hospital, as we attempt to solve the mystery of the deaths.

Through his fictitious hospital, its past and present, author DC Brockwell raises pertinent questions and topics for discussion on the treatment of mental disorders. The back-and-forth narrative in Hellsleigh makes for an engaging reading experience. The novel begins with Dr. Fiske falling from the roof of the hospital, and as the story progresses we move forward as well as backward, to uncover the mysterious events of the introduction – an ending leading to a beginning. We learn how each of the deceased came to be where they were ultimately found, or at least the parts of them that were identified. A team of paranormal investigators undertaking a non-commissioned project, a group of university students partying in a restricted area, a reporter having his research catch up with his reality – the sequence of timelines, events, characters, historical context keep the reader on edge throughout.

Hellsleigh is a wonderfully constructed story. The supernatural elements are eerie and atmospheric, rather than gory and in-your-face. In a horrific as well as terrific storyline, Brockwell makes the reader consider who the real monsters are – the ghosts of the present or the people of the past. 

Like Brockwell, other authors have also addressed mental health issues through their dark fiction. The Focus Program by KT Dady is a sci-fi horror story that begins with the suicide of the protagonist. He is incorporated into the titular organization that aims to eliminate mental disorders by denying their existence on his death. Dady sensitively touches subjects like the ignorance of society and the denial of problems that are not overtly visible. Similarly, We Are Monsters by Brian Kirk is a medical horror novel focused on schizophrenia and an experimental drug that displaces hallucinations from the mind and sets the monsters free into the real world. 

Horror fiction addressing mental health offers a unique reading experience, by questioning society and the medical fraternity about where the actual horrors lie. In the minds of patients? Or in hospitals resorting to constant drugging to keep patients subdued? Or in societal rejection in terms of jobs and housing? October is dedicated to World Mental Health Day, and the month also celebrates Halloween. In an irony of sorts, mental health issues are still largely misunderstood and misdiagnosed, or ignored and dismissed. The horrors an individual goes through within their own minds and society at large stresses the importance of education and sensitivity in the addressal and treatment of mental health illnesses.

Free Fiction : In the Space of Insanity by Helen Mihajlovic (Continued)

The Countess was up at dawn as a golden hue enveloped the sky. She had picked out her best clothes, a skirt decorated with silver lace and her petticoat trimmed with silver-gilt stitches. While she was putting on her pearl necklace, there was a knock on her bedchamber door. 

Frederick stood outside her room solemnly holding a letter. 

“Lieutenant Alexandra left at dawn,” said Frederick.

He extended his arm, but the Countess insisted he read the letter to her. 

Frederick read aloud: 

        Dear Countess,

      I must leave for Vienna. I have immensely enjoyed my stay at Castle Adnarim. Our time together has been memorable. 

            Sincerely Lieutenant Christoff Alexandra.  

 

Anger pierced her heart. “He hasn’t mentioned when he will return.” 

Frederick frowned. 

She knew he wouldn’t return, just like all the others. She walked away in a huff.

***

The Countess opened the front door to two new parcels. She helped Frederick carry them inside, fumigating their contents before touching them.  

She spent the entire morning marveling at the emerald lantern clock with a brass dial, large bell and decorative fretwork. But she was most impressed with the archery set, the new bow that she had custom made with a burnished deep red Rosewood, and the arrow’s head and nock were made of gold.   

The Countess spent the remainder of the day with her wooden archery set. She gripped the arrow, extended the bow and regularly hit the target. She fell into a reverie imagining it was Christoff that stood in the place of the target and she aggressively aimed the arrow at him, penetrating his heart, piercing him to his death. Her mouth curled up with delight. 

***

As darkness descended, the Countess listened to the savage wind while she lay in bed; the shutters rattled and the chamber was filled with a chill. She fell into a fearful slumber. 

She stood on a busy road, watching people walking by her; they were gaunt, pale, and with thin sickly frames. They trembled with a burning fever as they drew nearer to her; she felt surrounded by their fits of coughing. She looked with horror onto their swollen heads as they grabbed her hair and poked her limbs. She heard their discordant tongues, their pangs of fury and anguished pleas.   

The Countess woke drenched in perspiration and her limbs trembled.

***

The Countess had instructed Frederick to prepare her bath at dawn, but Frederick had fallen ill again and therefore the Countess had to prepare her own bath. She shut all the curtains; the light would aggravate the throbbing migraine that always ensued her nightmares.  

The darkened room was filled with perfumes: bowls with grains of musk and jasmine flowers. She removed her silk bathrobe and climbed into the tub; the warmth of the water enveloped her skin. For a moment she felt peace. 

But as she glanced down at the rim of the bath, her breath grew erratic. Tiny creatures crawled on the edge of her bathtub. She reached for a brush and squashed them, but one of the creatures fell into the water, frantically moving its long legs. She poked at it, trying to pull it out with the brush. But when she reached for the candle by the tub to better see where the creature had crawled to, the water was clear and there was no sign of the squashed arachnids. It had been the shadows of her imagination. 

It was not until the late afternoon that the Countess’ migraine had gone. She’d heard someone knocking on the door in the morning with a delivery but had felt too unwell to answer. She opened the front door to a bright afternoon sunlight. Squinting, she brought the parcel inside, fumigated it thoroughly. The parcel contained a fencing foil with an intricately etched handle. It was made in Spain. 

She held the fencing foil up and stood with one foot forward and the other back on the damp grass. Frederick was feeling better and obeyed the Countess’ instruction to join her. His hand wobbled as he held the foil.  

“En garde,” said the Countess. She advanced towards Frederick, who retreated with anxiety. 

The dark night descended; the Countess’ blade shone in the moonlight. 

At dinnertime, Frederick vanished, she suspected he’d returned to the castle to prepare the meal. 

The Countess roamed amongst the barren trees, the decaying leaves at her feet, and an odor of dampness filled the garden. She stopped at a tall oak tree with its twisted branches; the cool breeze stroked her skin. 

But when she heard footsteps behind her, she quickly turned and was surrounded by three people whose shadows took unusual shapes. A man stood before her with a long-nose mask, dressed in white; he jumped around like a fool. The man on her left wore a bright-colored, tattered uniform and his face was concealed with a flesh-colored mask, he stood with his chest out, picking up his knees high as he walked around her. A short, scrawny man stood on her right with red and black attire, a flowing cape, and a black mask with a hooked beak. 

“Frederick!” she called. 

Frederick quickly appeared. “They’re the performers from the Commedia dell’arte,” he said. 

 “Get me away from people!” the Countess cried. 

The Countess began to perspire, grew dizzy and fell to the ground.  

***

The Countess woke with a feeling of melancholy and angst and did so for the many mornings that followed. And as the year passed, silver hair had encroached upon her temples and creases had appeared on her forehead. One day as she sat at her desk in the tower, hand resting on her poems, peering at the dark clouds as they shifted in the sky, she grew nervous. A cloud appeared in the shape of a demon, with two hollow eyes and its mouth full of jagged teeth. 

“Frederick!” she called. When there was no answer, she began to worry.

But as she looked down at the pile of poems that she had written, she knew that Frederick, William, the two thieves, Christoff and the performers from the Commedia dell’arte were all imagined: they were the trickery of her senses, imagined through shadows and shapes she had seen, muses for her poetry. 

She grimaced as she thought of what she had really endured. Frederick had died a year before the plague, but she never trusted anyone to replace him. Christoff had been a young man that hadn’t loved her, and she had seen many performances of the Commedia dell’arte, their sinister masks always leaving her terrified. The Countess had missed her brother William and often imagined his ghost. 

Outside the castle a horse whinnied loudly, rousing her from her thoughts. She descended the stairs, peering through the casement. The man on the horse rang a loud bell. 

“The plague has come to an end,” he said and rode into the distance. 

A sudden sense of joy emerged in her. But as she thought deeply of the people who had hurt her, all the death and the love she had longed for that was unrequited; she frowned. 

“Is the world worthy of going back to?” She mumbled to herself. 

She looked at the emptiness of the vast land and the two owls in the oak tree that fought in the harsh cold wind; one owl’s cry resounding sadness as it bled with defeat. It reminded the Countess of the cruelness everywhere.  

“No!” she shouted. “The world is vulgar!”

With trembling hands, she bolted the door shut. 

Dedicated to my beloved Brother Bill. 

© 2021 Helen Mihajlovic  

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Helen Mihajlovic is a published author. Her short story ‘A Dark Love story’ is in the book ‘100 Doors to Madness’ available at Dymocks online bookstore. Other published stories include ‘A Sinister Nature’ and ‘The Temptation of Eve’. All stories are dedicated to her mother and brother.

Free Fiction : In the Space of Insanity by Helen Mihajlovic


The Countess Pamela Bohrer had ridden the carriage for miles as she headed towards the isolated land where the medieval Castle Adnarim rested on a hill. The castle had been passed down through generations of the Bohrer family and the Countess had become the sole heir.  

The castle loomed ahead with its high stone walls and six ominous towers that penetrated the night sky. It had one hundred rooms, seventy fireplaces, lengthy hallways and the rows of heavily barred windows gave the impression that the outside world was forbidden entry.

When the Countess arrived, she entered the dark castle, shivering inside its cold rooms. A damp odor filled the air. The moonlight streaming from the pointed windows faintly lit the vaulted ceilings, the dirty ground, the cracks in the walls, and the decaying marble on the fireplace.

“Frederick!” she yelled. 

The silhouette of her servant appeared in a dim doorway. He was a tall man with hollow cheeks and silver hair, who had served her family for two generations. 

“Welcome back to Adnarim Castle Countess Bohrer,” he said. “How was your trip into town?”

“The plague has spread to Vienna,” she said. Her voice quivered. “Everyone must remain in their houses.” 

Frederick’s hands shook as he attempted to lift her bag; the Countess insisted she would carry the bag herself. 

“I would like dinner served in an hour,” she ordered. 

He gave a nod before she ascended the stairs to her bedchamber. 

In the center of the chamber was an ornamented bed made of dark wood. Around it, rich embroideries hung on the walls and the family coat of arms hung by the door: a silhouette of a chiropteran with crooked wings. 

The Countess jolted when she heard a sudden bang. She lit a candle, looking nervously around the bedchamber. She searched under the bed and behind the purple curtains in case of an intruder.  A moonbeam revealed a moving shadow on the wall. Her heartbeat grew erratic. But when she approached the shadow, it disappeared. 

The Countess grew fearful that her anxious temperament would develop to the neurosis that had frequently tormented her for years; whereby she would see shadows and shapes of all sizes that would take the form of threatening creatures, that were a trickery of her senses. 

She was relieved to find that the open shutters flapping in the wind had caused the shadow. She closed the shutters. But upon hearing a loud groan in the hallway, her blood pulsed. She slowly walked to the chamber door and opened it. 

The hallway floorboards creaked beneath her feet as she headed towards the solemn groaning. It grew louder. As she turned the corner, there stood a pale young man, with large somber eyes and black attire, whose form was transparent; she could see the wall through him. 

For a moment happiness rose in her heart; it was her beloved brother William. But when she remembered more than a decade had passed since his death, her face grew whiter than the ghost.

“William,” she said. 

“I am here to warn you,” he said. 

His grim tone frightened her.  

 “Warn me!” her voice faltered. 

“Two men are coming to Adnarim Castle.”

“Who are they?”

“They are dangerous men who mean you harm.”

“I’ve done no wrong to have an enemy.” 

“They are violent scoundrels.” 

“I have nothing of great value to steal. I have sold most of the jewelry for the maintenance of my properties.” But trepidation overtook her as she remembered the several parcels recently bought from various shops in town that were to be delivered to the castle upon her return.

“They’ll steal any of your possessions they can barter.”

Her bottom lip quivered. “I’m afraid they’ll bring the plague.” 

“You must bolt all the doors and stay inside.”

“I’m all alone,” she said. “There’s no one to protect me.”  She looked to the kindness on his face. He had been the only man who had loved her. 

“I miss you, William.”

“Hold onto calm, dearest sister,” he said. “With shrewd thinking, you will prevail.”

He vanished. 

She ran to every door in the castle and bolted it shut. 

***

The Countess sat at the head of a long rectangular table covered in a rich fabric, on a high chair decorated with whimsical carvings. She glanced at her reflection on the chalice, her dark curls with a few strands of silver hung on her shoulders, her large black eyes had dark circles and she wore a flowing red velvet looped up skirt adorned with red ribbon. 

A momentary sadness crossed the Countess’ face as she looked at the empty seats. Memories of childhood tormented her; she often sat alone in the gardens as a young girl, surrounded by the laughter of children running around the large oak trees. Throughout her life, she had grown accustomed to being alone.

When Frederick’s old limbs hadn’t brought her meal to the table an hour later, she charged into the kitchen and came back with a gold dish weighted with salmon and placed a pitcher filled with mead by its side.  

A loud crack of thunder penetrated the night sky as the Countess ate. She turned towards the opened arched window and a look of fright crossed her eyes. She imagined a bolt of lightning striking her balcony and sparking a wildfire burning Castle Adnarim to ashes. She shut the window, grimacing at the dark clouds as the sudden rain thrashed the pane.  

As she stepped back, a drop of liquid fell on her cheek from a hole in the ceiling. The Countess wondered if the liquid held a perilous nature: a dangerous acid that she imagined scalding her skin, eating away each layer of the flesh and leaving her skull protruding. Her fingers anxiously rose to her cheek, reassured that it was merely a drop of harmless rainwater. She exhaled with relief. 

***

After dinner, the Countess headed to the pointed tower of Adnarim Castle containing the musty smell of the thousands of books lining mahogany circular shelves. A few words were engraved on the wall: Everything is too complicated for human beings to understand.   

The Countess sat behind a wooden desk with a quill pen, ink bottle and parchment. She had often come to the tower to divert her attention from anxious thoughts and would spend hours writing her poetry. 

Her mind was haunted by the vision of her brother’s ghost. 

What if William’s warning were to come true? 

She picked up the quill pen longing for a moment of peace while finishing her poem about a brave soldier and the Zanni trickster as he leapt and tumbled. A hint of a smile emerged on her lips as she lingered in her imagination. 

But a sudden bang outside the castle roused the Countess from her fancies; her quill pen fell to the ground. She peered out the casement onto the moonlit courtyard where strange shadows of two figures advanced. She remembered her brother’s warning; her breath grew louder. 

The Countess descended the stairs. She grasped her head at the loud banging on the doors as the thieves endeavored to break into the castle. 

“Frederick,” she called. 

But there was no answer; Frederick had been ill after dinner and had gone to bed early. She grimaced at the shatter of glass; a rock had found its way between the bars on a window.      

The Countess gasped. Many thoughts racing through her mind, she ran to get her bow and quiver of arrows and then rushed to the balcony. She peered over the ledge and saw the silhouettes of two men: one scrawny and the other portly, both continuing to beat on the doors. 

She watched the silhouettes steal her parcel by the door. She thought of what her brother William had told her. “Hold onto calm, dearest sister. With shrewd thinking, you will prevail.” 

Strangely a moment of calm came over her. She aimed an arrow at the thief with the portly form and kept shooting till he fell dead. She aimed another arrow at the scrawny thief, who, having seen his accomplice fall down dead, began to run. The Countess clenched her teeth as her arrow missed him. She pulled out another arrow from the quiver and took her aim. A wicked gleam crossed her eyes as she struck his head and he fell to the ground in a pool of blood. 

***

For several days afterward, the Countess stood guard on the balcony till a late hour. She peered through a handheld telescope, allowing her to see the far ends of the vast land that surrounded the castle. She regretted not having repaired the drawbridge since her last stay here. 

One night, as she marched up and down the balcony, watching for intruders, she saw a figure on horseback riding towards the castle. She shook with fear. 

“Frederick,” she yelled. 

The shape of a man drew nearer. She quickly ran into the house. There was a loud knock on the door. 

Frederick walked wearily to the door but did not open it. 

“The castle holds arms!” said Frederick.

“Who are you?” asked the Countess, from behind the closed door. 

“I am Lieutenant Christoff Alexandra,” he said. 

“We’re not accepting visitors during the plague,” said the Countess. 

“I am from the far east, there is no plague on that side of the river.”

The Countess and Frederick exchanged a contemplative stare. The Countess hesitantly opened the door. 

The man was masked by the night and she caught shades of a navy-blue uniform. 

“May I speak to the owner of the castle?” he said, removing his hat. 

“I am Countess Pamela Bohrer, the owner of Adnarim Castle,” she said. “You may come inside.”

“Countess Bohrer, I am looking for a place to stay for the night.” He said as he entered. His dark brown eyes held a mischievous stare and ebony curls lined his hat. A hint of a smile crossed the Countess’ lips.

 “I must leave for Vienna in the morning.”

“Frederick, show Lieutenant Alexandra to a bedchamber upstairs.” 

The Lieutenant gave the Countess a lascivious look over his shoulder as he followed Frederick up to his chamber. 

***

The next few days brought forth a settled wind; the Countess was pleased that the Lieutenant had extended his stay at the castle. They roamed the gardens as the swallow sang a pleasing melody, spending afternoons under the Magnolia tree.  

“I am the greatest swordsman in the whole of Austria,” boasted the Lieutenant. He drew out his sword and thrashed the air. “I have fought many battles.”

The Countess’ brows rose, mesmerized by his shiny sword. 

When the Lieutenant finally put away his sword, he took out a book from his coat pocket. It was a collection of poetry by Robert Herrick. He read with a soft voice that the Countess found hard to hear.  

How Love came in, I do not know,

Whether by the eye, or ear, or no;
Or whether with the soul it came,
At first, infused with the same;
Whether in part ’tis here or there,
Or, like the soul, whole everywhere.

The Countess’ smile broadened.

When night fell, they both kept warm by the fireplace after a scrumptious dinner. The Lieutenant reached for the Countess’ hand. He moved closer to her and their figures almost touched.

“Do you like to dance?” he asked. 

“But there’s no music, Christoff,” she said. “I will ask Frederick to play the harpsichord.”

Frederick was seated at the harpsichord in moments. 

Christoff spun her around the room, with his light touch. The Countess lifted her head to the heavenly twangs of the music and they both laughed. 

As they grew weary at the end of the night, the Lieutenant gave her a lustful stare and his lips met hers with fervor. A glimmer of hope emerged in the Countess’ eyes, that she had found love. 

To Be Continued Tomorrow…

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Helen Mihajlovic is a published author. Her short story ‘A Dark Love story’ is in the book ‘100 Doors to Madness’ available at Dymocks online bookstore. Other published stories include ‘A Sinister Nature’ and ‘The Temptation of Eve’. All stories are dedicated to her mother and brother.