Kidnapped! Automatism Press : “The Acid That Dissolves Images” by Loren Rhoads

Posted in horror, News with tags , , , on December 9, 2016 by Horror Addicts Editor

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A Taste of “The Acid That Dissolves Images”

by Loren Rhoads

This story was initially published in Lend the Eye a Terrible Aspect in 1994. It was republished in the Ashes & Rust chapbook.

You throw the magazine into the jumble of makeup heaped beneath the mirror. “Pretentious gory poseur,” the critic called you, “bastard love-child of Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, and the whole 20th-century shock-rock scene.” You draw a (hopefully) calming breath. The critic obviously hadn’t stayed for the whole show.

Obviously. Medusa is an angry itch inside you, mixed in the bile that creeps up the back of your throat. You suck miserably on a beer, but the bitter taste won’t go away. How long can this sane front hold?

Your hands shake as you load the gun. The first bullet shatters the mirror, your reflection; the second silences the digiplayer. As Medusa rises, you feel the hardness returning. It feels good.

Medusa wonders: if she shot the body you share in the shoulder, could you still go on stage — despite the pain, despite your arm hanging incarnadine against the shiny black latex bodysuit? You wish there were some way to shoot her. Instead, you hold the magazine at arm’s length and blow it to confetti. It snows down around you, smelling of cordite.

Over the dressing room intercom, Carl asks, “Are you ready, Rachel?”

In response, Medusa laughs. Her low, cruel cackle has become your trademark.

To invite him in, you promise, “I won’t shoot you.” Still, the creature inside you might, just to see how Carl would meet death. He is one of the few young men you know, a conscientious objector. A couple of months ago, he claimed he would rather report to prison — with all that entailed — than join the Army. But the night his draft notice came, Medusa plucked out his eyes on stage. Carl fainted before she finished the first one.

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He can’t afford cybernetic replacements, of course, and the Army won’t lay out that kind of cash for a grunt they don’t expect to see again once they dump him in the desert.

You’ve been wondering why Carl stayed in the band. Maybe, in a twisted way, he is grateful to Medusa. He’s as friendly to you as anyone dares to be these days.

Carl opens the dressing room door. He seems to regard you through the gauze that covers his empty sockets. “Did you read the review in Modern Image?” he asks.

You decide to be honest. “Why did our first national publicity have to be a slam?”

Any mention is better than no mention at all.” Carl crosses his arms on his chest and leans against the doorframe. “Sounded to me like she made up her mind about us before the show started, then left after the first song. They call the magazine Image, not Substance.” He smiled. “It hasn’t affected the size of tonight’s crowd. Maybe it helped.”

You wish he hadn’t told you that. Medusa has gotten really wild on the nights she’s had a big audience. Last time it was Carl. How can she top that? Feigning calm, you jab the pointed nail of your little finger at your eyelashes, forcing the mascara to spike still more. Finally you say screwit and pull the bone-white shock of bangs into your face. These normal gestures do not faze Medusa. She shows you white hair clotted with crimson. Behind it, your shattered reflection wears Medusa’s smile.

You follow Carl from the dressing room. The cinderblocks of the hall are covered with the graffiti of a hundred bands. Most of the names are unfamiliar. When you reach the wings, the effluvia of spilled beer and hair mousse washes over you. You envision the crowd: witch bitches in their black gowns and silver talismans, knots of mohawked punks, a tourist or two in bondage gear. Desperate women, wanting a spectacle to make them forget how lonely they are, how long ago their men disappeared into the desert. Carl gets laid every night. So does the computer jockey, Ann. It seems forever since you’ve had anybody but Medusa for company.

The band stands in a clump, passing a joint of Lydia’s one-hit weed. Though excluded, you bask in their camaraderie. Again you are glad to have answered their ad for a singer. The performances allow you respite from Medusa, when you don’t need to clutch her leash so tightly. Now that she’s grown abusive of this freedom, perhaps you should quit.

Poseur,” Medusa murmurs. “You would quit after one scathing review. I don’t need you holding me back any longer.”

You realize Medusa still holds the gun. You thrust it through the back of your belt and hope she will forget about it. How likely is that? Still, she can’t kill you. She needs you to move around in. And she needs the band, to do whatever it is she’s come to do. You promise yourself that they’ll be safe.

The houselights dim. The audience rustles, a thousand-eyed beast whose attention is suddenly focused. Your fingertips are icy as you slip the microphone over your head, switch on the box of effects at your hip. “I’ll show you gore,” Medusa teases. You wish you knew what she has planned, but you never do.

The machines kick on, spewing pale smoke that smells like myrrh. In the gloom, Ann’s computer lights glow a malevolent red. Lydia leads Carl to his drums, waits solicitously for him to find the controls. Then she lifts her bass from its cradle and turns up the volume.

A moan begins, like a graveyard wind. Lydia weaves in a rapid bass melody.

When the fog reaches your knees, you pace slowly to downstage middle. Thus ends the rehearsed part of the show.

Is ecstasy possible in destruction?” Medusa whispers through the effects box. The reverse reverb repeats each word, clarifying it before biting it off. “Can one grow young in cruelty?”

Fear becomes a chill rock in your stomach.

Do you desire to see the Truth?” Medusa asks.

A stark white spotlight pierces the smoke to strike harsh reflections off the shiny latex bodysuit. With one hand, Medusa forces your head back, caresses your throat, cups one breast, hugs your bony ribs. Yes, she is killing you. You shiver, though not altogether in fear.

Do you desire essential satisfaction?” Medusa purrs. “I do.”

With a savage tug, she rips an earring from your left ear, throws it to the stage, and mashes the silver nude beneath her boot. Blood drips on your neck, warm, sensual. Medusa touches her fingers to it, brushes it across your lips. Delicious.

Let us enjoy ourselves to the full. ’Tis Nature’s law.”

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Medusa steals lyrics from Rimbaud, Crowley, Huysmans, everyone you’ve read. She has an incredible memory for cruelty.

Women crowd around the stage. Someone thrusts a black-gloved fist into the spotlight. You wonder what they derive from Medusa, why her fury attracts and binds them, mothlike, as it does you. Medusa only smiles.

A flashbulb dazzles your eyes.

Medusa stalks toward the flash, hissing lines from The Torture Garden into the microphone. The crowd washes after her, waves against the breakwater of the stage.

She halts, swaying on stiletto boot heels. Anger pounds like a bass drum inside your skull. You have to fight her to see.

The fortyish woman holds a camera at arm’s length over her head and snaps another picture. Trendy gold fans shield her ears. Her painstakingly ratted hair glows plum in the lights. You recognize her as the critic from Modern Image. Why could she be here, Medusa demands, unless to see if she has destroyed you?

Now that she has your attention, the critic shouts something. Sandwiched chest-high against the stage by the crowd, she is white-faced. You can’t hear her over the Berlioz melody Ann’s computer is generating. As you bend close to the footlights, Medusa switches on the flanger.

I can’t breathe,” the critic gasps. Your microphone Doppler-shifts the words, giving them a ghostly echo.

Like a bird of prey, Medusa’s laugh spirals up over the effects. She strides across the stage to Carl, drapes her arms over his shoulders, pinches his nipples through his black T-shirt. He freezes, rigid against your chest. “Count yourself lucky, bitch,” Medusa snarls. “Some people can’t see.”

To be continued!

Lend the Eye a Terrible Aspect: http://www.charnel.com/automatism/lend.html

Ashes & Rust for the kindle: http://amzn.to/2fAZD00

Both are available on my bookshop: https://lorenrhoads.com/bookshop/

Kidnapped! Automatism Press : How Horror Writers Show Their Morbid Curiosity by Loren Rhoads

Posted in horror, News with tags , , , on December 8, 2016 by Horror Addicts Guest

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How Horror Writers Show Their Morbid Curiosity

by Loren Rhoads

Because I hosted several annual Open Mics for Morbid Curiosity magazine at the World Horror Conventions, I had the opportunity to meet a whole bunch of horror writers.  I was surprised how easy it was to get them up on a stage, baring their real lives in front of an audience.

In fact, Brian Keene opened Morbid Curiosity #7 with a story that he’d rocked at the Open Mic in Chicago.  “Kick ’em Where it Counts” is one of my favorite stories that I was ever lucky enough to publish.  It’s about an industrial accident that nearly took Keene’s manhood and his life.  You can still wince along in sympathy (even I did and my manhood lives in a drawer) by picking up one of the few remaining copies of that issue of the magazine.

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Rain Graves told the story of her awakening to the powers of Ancient Egypt at work in her life, which added a mystical touch to one of the Open Mics.  Michael Arnzen told about growing up in Amityville, near the house where Ronald DeFeo killed his family. Mason Winfield unwittingly lived with the .22-Caliber Killer. Lorelei Shannon talked about discovering the Hellraiser Gopher. I even got Brian Hodge to tell the story of how he talked with angels.

Those live events were really great because I never knew what I was going to get.

Another writer who blew me away was Simon Wood, who contributed “The Road of Life” to #7.  He wrote about running into a bicyclist with his car — and he’s read it several times for Morbid Curiosity events.  The story is just chilling, especially if you don’t know what’s coming next.  (Sorry to have just spoiled it for you.)

Most of the issues of the magazine are sold out now, but you can still check out the remaining copies here: https://lorenrhoads.com/bookshop/.

Kidnapped! Automatism Press: Black Light Monsters By Martha Allard

Posted in horror, News with tags , , , on December 7, 2016 by Horror Addicts Guest

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Black Light Monsters

by Martha Allard

I grew up watching Saturday morning creature features. Sir Graves Ghastly, the movie host I favored, was silly, but he had a taste for Hammer Horror. It seemed as though there was a Dracula movie every Saturday morning. My favorites starred Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. By the time I was fifteen, I was half in love with Christopher Lee as Dracula, with his hungry eyes. He was equal parts tragedy and cruelty. He seduced his prey with a sleek coldness that was mesmerizing. Each time his Dracula met Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing, there was a part of me that hoped that he might escape the stake. Still, I admired Dr. Van Helsing. Peter Cushing changed my idea of what a hero could be. He was five inches shorter than his costar, almost delicate in contrast, but with a spine of steel. He was as much an outsider as Dracula and faced with odds that were overwhelming. He knew the rules, knew how to drive the stake in or spill the dawn into the room. Growing up in the 80s as I did, isolated and gay in a small town, I took comfort in his victories, while at the same time mourning for Dracula.

My book Black Light is about a rock band on the rise and a psychic vampire. It’s filled with snatches of my childhood. It was inevitable that these movies worked their way into my views of vampirism.

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In the book, Albrecht Christian is the psychic vampire. He feeds by taking energy from his victims, through touch. He is addicting and, unlike the psychic vampires we come across in life, Christian knows what he is stealing. When we meet him, he is still mourning a lover that he nearly consumed and looking for a replacement. He sees his world with hungry eyes. He is smooth and hard and seduces his prey with his sheer presence. But that is a front for a man who is dying of loneliness, as I imagined Lee’s Dracula to be.

Asia Heyes is the band’s bass player. He also a reflection of my teenaged self, at home on Saturdays watching the struggle between light and dark played out from a place of safety. Asia’s world is punctuated by old horror movies. He meets his first girlfriend in a bar called Corman’s, named for Roger, the great schlock movie maker. Asia is put at ease by the presence of a fake mummy slouching in one of the shadowy booths. The place he is most at home in Los Angeles is an old cemetery that he recognizes on his first visit. He’s seen it in movies. When Albrecht Christian crosses Asia’s path, Asia recognizes the monster. Asia wishes, like I did as a kid, that they were in a horror movie because then Asia could be a hero.

Black Light is about rock and roll and falling in love for the first time, but the traces of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are woven deep into the story. I don’t think I realized how deep until I finished it.

Martha’s blog: https://marthajallard.blogspot.com

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2esmiJj

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/black-light-martha-j-allard/1123812854

Publisher’s page: http://automatismpress.com/black_light.html

Kidnapped! Behind “The Shattered Rose” by Loren Rhodes

Posted in News with tags , , , on December 6, 2016 by Horror Addicts Guest

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Behind “The Shattered Rose”

by Loren Rhoads

When I first moved to San Francisco, I lived in between the Castro neighborhood and Haight-Ashbury. The house, an old Victorian that survived the 1906 earthquake, became a focal point for a large group of friends.

Quite often we’d go wandering on weekend nights. Sometimes we’d hike over to Corona Heights, a former quarry turned into a park that had a spectacular view of the city. Other times we’d go to Buena Vista Park, where the rain gutters are lined with broken tombstones. When we were up for a longer hike, we’d walk to Golden Gate Park.

In the late 1980s, the Haight was no safer than it is now. Men would stroll the street, chanting, “Doses, doses” or “Kind bud” or “What do you need?” When the Dead were in town, kids slept in doorways, on the neighbors’ porches or under any friendly bush in the park. People were constantly going off their meds, arguing with trees or simply ranting in the middle of the street.

So, roaming around in a pack of 8 or 10 fine young punks was very liberating for a sheltered farm girl trying to settle into the big city. Mostly, we went to Golden Gate Park to drink beer and play on the swings in the Children’s Playground, but sometimes we’d climb above the manmade waterfall on Strawberry Hill to look at the city lights and be part of the quiet darkness.

“The Shattered Rose” was inspired by those nocturnal ramblings. I adored the way the fog moved in the streetlights as if it was alive. I loved the salty flavor of the fog on my lips and the way it tingled on my face. I marveled at the way sounds could be so muted, edges so softened, as the ocean breathed over the land.

I really did see a rose thrown down on the sidewalk one night. It had been dashed to the ground so hard that its petals flew off like broken crockery. I knew the image would appear in a story someday.

And we really did startle a heron out of Hiawatha’s pond over by the DeYoung Museum. I thought the elegant bird was a statue, until it launched itself into the air, circled over our heads once, and flew away.

In addition to wandering San Francisco at night, the story was inspired by Dracula. When I read the novel the first time, I was deeply impressed by the baptism of blood, when Dracula opens a vein in his chest and forces Mina to drink his blood. For me, vampire stories – however sexy – are all about the blood.

I’d been reading the Sisters of Darkness and Love in Vein anthologies and I decided that the thing they lacked was that they weren’t bloody enough. I wanted my vampire erotica to be sticky and crimson.

“The Shattered Rose” appeared originally in the Paramental Appreciation Society chapbook, alongside a hardboiled magical detective story by Seth Lindberg, a gritty Tenderloin fairy tale by Lilah Wild, and a series of amazing fantasmagoric vignettes by Claudius Reich. San Francisco never looked so magical.

Link to the Paramental Appreciation Society chapbook: Paramental Appreciation Society

Kidnapped! The Death’s Garden Revisited Submissions Call

Posted in News with tags , , , , on December 5, 2016 by Horror Addicts Guest

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The Death’s Garden Revisited call for submissions

by Loren Rhoads

Twenty years ago, I was given a box of miscellaneous cemetery photos. They had been taken by my best friend’s husband over the course of his travels around the Americas. Blair was 28 years old and dying of AIDS. He wanted to know his photos had a good home.

I decided to put together a book that would feature those photos. Initially, I was going to write all the text, but as I talked to people about the project, everyone seemed to have a cemetery story to tell.

The book title expanded from Death’s Garden to Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries. I was thrilled to discover that people I knew — even complete strangers — all had a graveyard they’d connected with. Whether it be because a family member was buried there, visited it on vacation, grown up in a house near it, or for a whole bouquet of other reasons.

The contributors varied from people I met through zine publishing, a ceramics professor at Ohio State University, authors for the LA Weekly, professional artists, photographers, underground musicians, depressed high school girls, and punk rock diva Lydia Lunch. As the book came together, Death’s Garden blew away my expectations.

The initial print ran of 1,000 copies and sold out 18 months. I only asked for one-time rights to use everyone’s contributions, so I couldn’t republish it. Once the books were gone, that was it.

As the years passed, I’ve lost track of many of the contributors. Some are dead and have a different relationship with cemeteries now. Others have sunk into the anonymity of a pseudonym on the internet.

For a while now, I’ve wanted to assemble a second volume of Death’s Garden.  I think there are a lot more stories to be told about relationships people have formed with graveyards. For instance, what’s it like to be a tour guide? How are cemetery weddings different than others? What’s the strangest cemetery you’ve ever visited, or the most beautiful, or the spookiest?

This is open to anyone who has visited a cemetery where something special happened, either good or bad.  Tell me about your relationship with a cemetery.  I’d like to publish it on CemeteryTravel.com.

What I’m looking for:

  • personal essays that focus on a single cemetery
  • preferably with pictures
  • under 1500 words (totally negotiable, but the limit is something to shoot for)
  • descriptive writing
  • characterization, dialogue, tension: all the tools you’d use to tell a story
  • but this MUST be true — and it must have happened to you!

Reprints are fine.  If you’ve written something lovely on your blog and wouldn’t mind it reaching the couple thousand people who subscribe to Cemetery Travel, let me know.

If I accept your essay for publication on Cemetery Travel, be warned: I may do some light editing, with your permission.

Also, I’ll need:

  • a bio of 50-100 words
  • a photo of you
  • a link to your blog or book
  • links to your social media sites, so people can follow you.

Finally, if — as I hope — this project progresses to becoming a legitimate book, I will contact you with a contract and offer of payment.  Stay tuned!

Send your essay to me at morbid@charnel.com

Kidnapped! Automatism Press

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , on December 4, 2016 by Horror Addicts Guest

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Automatism Press is a two-person operation based in San Francisco. It was started in 1990 by Mason Jones and Loren Rhoads, went dormant for several years after the death of Morbid Curiosity magazine, and has recently returned with the books Lost Angels and Black Light, both published earlier this year.

Horror Addicts: What inspired you to start a press?

Loren Rhoads: When Mason and I first moved to San Francisco, we went to a lecture by Vale and AJ of RE/Search Books. They’d already published the William Burroughs/Brion Gysin/Throbbing Gristle book and the Industrial Culture Handbook, both of which we’d bought in Ann Arbor. At the time of the lecture, they were looking for help with their next book, which turned out to be Modern Primitives. They were very open about how they produced books, from interviewing subjects to design and layout to fulfilling orders. Working for them was a real education.

HA: Tell us about Automatism Press’s first book.

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Loren: It was called Lend the Eye a Terrible Aspect, after the St. Crispin’s Day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry the V. We published it in 1994. It was a collection of stories and essays about North America on the brink of the 21st century: very earnest, very punk rock. In fact, it includes an essay by Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys about legalizing marijuana. One of my favorite essays is about the human need to form tribes by Claudius Reich.

 

HA: What inspired your second book, Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries?

Loren: My best friend’s husband was dying of AIDS in the early 90s. Blair gave me a bunch of photographs of graveyards he had visited. Originally, I was just going to publish his photos, but the more people I spoke to about the project, the more personal essays I got for it. Death’s Garden has been out of print for years, but I’m still really proud of it.

HA: How did Death’s Garden lead to publishing zines?

Loren: Mason started an indy record label called Charnel Music, which brought a lot of Japanese bands to the US. He hit on the idea of interviewing the bands and reviewing Japanese records, movies, candy – every part of Japanese underground or pop culture – so he started a zine called Ongaku Otaku. He would get the best things in the mail for the zine…and I got jealous. I wanted cool stuff in the mail, too. I realized I needed to publish my own zine.

I’d really enjoyed the process of assembling Death’s Garden, particularly the part where I got true stories from strangers. So I decided I wanted to receive confessional essays from people I didn’t know.

I never considered any other name for the project than Morbid Curiosity.

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HA: Morbid Curiosity magazine was published annually for ten years. What was it like putting it together?

Loren: It was an amazing amount of fun. I was always impressed by the things people would confess to, from deeply personal medical issues to coming in contact with serial killers to adventures that might possibly get them arrested. I never knew what was going to come in the mail next.

Even better were the live events. I started out hosting yearly release parties at Borderlands Bookstore, which brought together hundreds of people. I just adored hearing people confess in front of an audience. Those readings led to open mics at the World Horror Conventions and then on to being on NPR and all kinds of crazy stuff.

HA: Why’d you quit?

Loren: By 2006, the world had changed. Stories that would have come to Morbid Curiosity were going up on Livejournal instead. Tower Records had been one of my biggest distributors, so when it closed down, it was suddenly a whole lot harder for me to sell magazines. I lost thousands of dollars in their collapse. And I had a kid by then, so I didn’t have the time or patience to make the magazine great any more.

Ten issues seemed like a good place to go out: while the magazine was still good, still loved.

HA: What came next?

Loren: Automatism published a couple of chapbooks. The first was Ashes & Rust, which Alan at Borderlands Bookstore recommended I put together after he invited me to read at my first Litcrawl in 2005. Ashes & Rust collected up four of my science fiction stories that had been published in little magazines. I described it as “Sex. Drugs. Rock’n’roll. Space aliens. Demonic possession. Murder. Friendship.” All the best things in life.

After that, we published the Paramental Appreciation Society chapbook. The Paramentals were a writing group that I belonged to for six years. It included Claudius Reich (who had been in both Automatism anthologies and most issues of Morbid Curiosity), Lilah Wild, Seth Lindberg, and A.M. Muffaz, all of whom I’d worked with on Morbid Curiosity. Mason was a member of the group, too, for a while.

The chapbook contains my erotic vampire story set in Golden Gate Park, a witchy fairy tale set in the Tenderloin, a dragon slayer’s adventure set in Lower Pacific Heights, and then explores what the BART trains are really running from.

HA: Then the press went silent for a number of years.

Loren: Yeah, my own writing and editing career took off finally. I sold Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues, a best of Morbid Curiosity book, to Scribner, which led to a collection of my cemetery travel essays called Wish You Were Here on Western Legends, a novel on Black Bed Sheets, a space opera trilogy at Night Shade, and a bunch more short stories published in books and magazines. I was too busy to be a publisher for a while.

HA: What brought you back?

Loren: The contract expired on my succubus novel and I got the rights back. It had always been planned as a two-book series, so I released the first book, Lost Angels, in April with my preferred text and a new cover.

HA: How did you publish the next book?

Loren: I served as a beta reader for Martha Allard’s Black Light. It is an amazing, aching ghost story with psychic vampires set in the rock-n-roll world of the 1980s. Martha had been planning to self-publish it when Mason heard me raving about it. He suggested we do it for her. I can’t say enough good things about the book. It’s beautiful and devastating.

HA: What’s next?

Loren: The second succubus novel was meant to be out this month, but I got offered a big project on a short deadline for a big New York publisher, so Angelus Rose is on hold until that monster is turned in. I’m still waiting on the contract, though, so I can’t announce its name yet.

When the second succubus novel finally does come out, Angelus Rose will complete the story of Lorelei and Azaziel. They burn down most of LA in the process. I’m excited to see it in print finally.

HA: Any plans beyond that?

Loren: I want to update Wish You Were Here, my cemetery travel essays. I’ve been collecting essays for a second volume of Death’s Garden called Death’s Garden Revisited. Emerian Rich has written a lovely piece for that book, actually. I’m hoping to kickstart the funding for that book next summer.deaths-garden-cover001

In addition, I’m going to experiment with putting a dozen of my Alondra short stories out as singles on Amazon. “The Shattered Rose,” from the Paramentals chapbook, is one of them.

But everything is on hold until I get my mystery project written. It’s supposed to come out in October 2017, so time is very, very short.

Lend the Eye:

http://www.charnel.com/automatism/lend.html

Death’s Garden: https://lorenrhoads.com/2016/10/11/deaths-garden-revisited-2/

Morbid Curiosity: https://lorenrhoads.com/editing/morbid-curiosity-magazine/

All the available books on my bookshop: https://lorenrhoads.com/bookshop/

 

Guest Blog: Engine Women’s Light by Laurel Anne Hill

Posted in horror with tags , , , on December 2, 2016 by Horror Addicts Editor

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Chapter 7

Blue Light and Rattling Bones

 

ewl-lined-up-2-cropped-for-animoto A curtain of darkness hung behind manzanita bushes and poison oak, ten or fifteen feet above me on the hillside. This had to be the opening I’d detected the day the council met. The threshold to the Cave of Light.

I edged upward, prickly brush scraping my arms through the sleeves of my ankle-length tunic. Some types of Indian spirits stayed with their bones instead of going to the Shadow World. The spirit of the Yokut shaman’s bones in the cave ought to know where that magic letter was, plus how to reach it without encountering malicious spirits or falling down a shaft. If the crumbling path didn’t give way beneath my sandals, I’d soon learn the truth.

The truth… My people had accepted the Shadow World’s mission to sabotage an asylum train by summer. Promise would continue to exist. But where? I glanced heavenward. Sunset dressed the western sky in muted pinks and grays, as the waning moon’s pale outline slipped behind multicolored clouds. Each truth had its own time of discovery.

My empty stomach gurgled. Supper time was an unavoidable truth. Papa and the others would have noticed my absence by now. The way here from Promise was too steep and treacherous to dark-walk, particularly with quarter moon only five days away. No one could do anything before dawn about my disobedience. I had until after sunrise to find the letter.

A ledge jutted from atop a granite outcrop, rather narrow and mostly cloaked by chaparral. The ledge led to a deep indentation in the hillside. One step. Two steps. My destination was almost within reach.

Still, a lonely being of bones might desire my company for eternity. Locating the shaman’s skeleton might not be the best thing. My stomach muscles tightened as I found the next foothold.

I squeezed behind scratchy bushes, then stretched my arms high. I pushed off the hillside with my feet and pulled myself onto a shelf of smooth, gray rock. An opening in the hillside waited. I snaked on my belly into a dim, rocky passage, the ceiling too low for standing. Somewhere, water dripped. So far, no spirit lights or skeletons were in sight.

Within a few feet, the passage opened into a chamber several times my height. I maneuvered into a sitting position. No blue-green light shone. Only the faint daylight from outdoors. Dusk drifted toward night. I could explore little farther until sunrise. I’d hoped for an obvious clue. Had I come to the wrong place?

 

My stomach rumbled, louder than before, although I’d eaten nuts, acorn bread and herbal broth for breakfast. I usually fasted longer, one full night and day, before visiting spirits. A taboo broken. My transgression could offend the shaman’s spirit. Still, I’d only eaten with the community this morning to mask my intention of coming here. I had the will-power to sacrifice comfort for duty. A serving of mashed beans, however, would have tasted wonderful right then.

I scanned the shadows of the cave, my eyes adapting to darkness. If only I’d brought a lantern. Perhaps I could explore this chamber anyway. Not a good idea. Vertical shafts to lower chambers could ensnare me. The Voice of the Light—the Virgin of Guadalupe?—could only try to help. I should invoke the spirit of the shaman’s bones.

“Dearest shaman,” I called as I faced the cave’s dim interior. “The Shadow World has bid me to come here. May I trouble you to assist me?”

I introduced myself, in case he’d forgotten the little girl who’d loved his mint and berry tea years ago. The night breeze rustled through unseen leaves outside the cavern. I repeated my request six more times, a total of seven. A strong number. An owl hooted. Not even a mysterious hoot. My chest heaved a deep sigh. All this evening’s efforts had been wasted.

A wind arose outside. A chill cut through me. I crawled several feet into the cavern and curled up on the floor. Warmer now, I yawned. Should I sleep? The shaman’s spirit might visit me in a dream and tell me what to do next.

From the darkness came a soft, repetitive high-pitched knocking. I tensed. Rattlesnakes preferred to slither about in daylight, but one of them might call this cave home. I’d better not move.

A shuffling sound led to another rattle. An eerie blue-green glow—a fist-size ball of light—swayed within the cave. The orb, maybe thirty feet away, divided into twin spheres and drifted closer to me. Glints of ivory triggered a tingling sensation in my fingertips and toes. Bones could rattle. Ivory was the color of bones.

Two clenched rows of teeth wobbled in the air. A death head gleamed. Blessed saints, the blue-green radiance came from eye sockets. Human eye sockets. In a skull, attached to a human skeleton. Oh, dear Lord of this world and the next. The being approached, rattling, arms by its sides, mouth frozen in a horrific grin. Strips of rags dangled from its hips. The beams turned deep blue. I couldn’t move, cry out, do anything but widen my eyes. I was awake and not in the Shadow World. The dead walked the earth in more than spirit form.

A spirit capable of holding a heap of dry bones together must possess great mystical powers. Powers strong enough to hold me captive for the rest of my life. Run—I needed to stand and run. I tried to rise. Two bony hands reached out and clamped my wrists. The skeleton pushed me against the ground and dragged me deeper into darkness.

“Aiyeee,” I yelled.

My cry echoed as the skeleton pulled me across the cave’s bumpy floor. I twisted my body but couldn’t break free.

 

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laurelannhill

Laurel Anne Hill has authored two novels: The award-winning Heroes Arise (Komenar Publishing, 2007) and The Engine Woman’s Light (Sand Hill Review Press, 2016), a spirits-meet-steampunk tale. The Engine Woman’s Light is now available on Kindle and also scheduled for release in trade paper format by the end of January, 2017. Laurel’s published short stories and nonfiction pieces total forty and have appeared in a variety of anthologies, collections, and journalistic media. The fans of HorrorAddicts.net elected her “Most Wicked” in 2011 for her steampunk-horror podcast Flight of Destiny. For more about her go to http://www.laurelannehill.com.

Link to Laurel’s book on Amazon Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Engine-Womans-Light-Laurel-Anne-ebook/dp/B01MG3INTH/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1480113299&sr=8-1&keywords=the+engine+woman%27s+light